Re-framing the way we look at life after studying for a year in Israel
I remember it well. Stepping on to that plane. Leaving behind the only existence I had known for what seemed like a lifetime but in truth had barely been a year. Tears streamed down my face at the heart-wrenching news of the loss of the three boys that we as a nation had been searching and praying for for many painstaking weeks. And I was alone. In every sense of the word. And I was abandoning my country in its time of need and loss. I was heading back to a place where few people would understand me.
After returning from an incredible year in Israel, many of us face a tremendous challenge. Some of us face challenges getting this opportunity in the first place, and once we finally return to our communities, we see the world in a whole new way. It seems as if everything and everyone around us has changed. The people around us seem foreign and different; the culture seems strange. But in truth, everything is exactly the same. It is we who have changed. We have grown as individuals spiritually, intellectually, and religiously. Our Amazon shopping carts become filled with books on philosophy and Tanach in place of vampires and young adult thrillers. Our minds have been opened up to endless different cultures and philosophies within Judaism and beyond. You may hear us play devil’s advocate and ask countless questions because we now thrive on a good debate; don’t worry, we’re striving for the truth and want to hear what you have to say. Our appreciation, admiration, loyalty, and love for our history and our homeland are no longer things that our limited vocabulary is capable of describing. You may find us broken beyond repair when tragedy strikes in Israel and overly enthused when we drink coke from a glass bottle. Our longing to remain connected to that experience makes it difficult for us to re-adapt to the life we have grown up with for 18 years.
It’s been almost a year now since I have been back from my unforgettable Israel experience, and I have learned so much about myself and life in general since I’ve returned. One of the most important things that I’ve learned while readjusting, is that life is not about longing and waiting to be somewhere else. Rather, it’s about making the best of the here and now and applying our unforgettable experiences to our daily lives. It’s about sharing those experiences with those that we love and admire, and remembering to remain grateful to the families and communities who have raised us and provided us with a foundation. It’s about finding new people to connect with and learning that there are many people who feel the same way and are out there waiting to meet us and share in our lives.
I have made a serious effort to stay connected to my homeland and maintain my spiritual, intellectual, and religious growth by finding things to do that drive me, inspire me and keep me connected. For example, in order to stay connected to my homeland I joined the radio team at Yeshiva University known as “WYUR”, where I have my own show called “IHeartIsrael”. I research and discuss news, events, politics, conflicts, and advancements in our country. This incredible opportunity has allowed me to be up to date with everything that is going on in Israel on a constant basis. In order to share and maintain my personal growth I started a modest fashion blog on Instagram called @imbringingclassyback, which allows me to share ways that we can dress fashionably while still remaining modest. I have also become part of a start-up website called “TorahExchange.com” where teens and twenty somethings will be able to B”H share videos of ideas and shiurim (email us at TheTorahExchange@gmail.com to be a part of this incredible opportunity). In addition, I give weekly classes at my synagogue which allows me to share all that I have been so privileged to learn with others. In order to stay connected with my friends and community, I learn Torah and Philosophy with my friends on Shabbat and during the week, which allows me to learn and grow from other people as well as share in our experiences together. I surround myself with people who inspire me and keep me grounded and motivated. I’ve learned that it is extremely important to maintain all that you have learned by incorporating it into your regular life. If we find things that we love and have a passion for, these things will help us keep a genuine connection with our homeland and keep us true to ourselves and the people that we strive to be.
Another thing that I’ve learned after returning from an unforgettable Israel experience is that life is not about finding ultimate answers and truths, but rather, it’s about searching and becoming as close as we possibly can to them. My year in Israel opened me up to a variety of hashkafot and ideas in Judaism and I returned thinking that I would have to find a way to define and label myself as a Jew, as well as find perfectly satisfying answers to all of my questions. But I realized that life is not about the answers. It’s about the struggle to reach them. I express myself better through song and poetry and I think the following poem will help convey this idea:
Im a tortured soul and I love it
Or maybe Im not but pretend to be
We cry till our tears hit the ground
So entrapped in our minds
So engulfed by our towns
The heavens consume us
Just the very thought ignites us
Step back from those frozen maps
Maybe the purpose is to let our minds wander
And come so close to the answers
Without risking completion
And thrive on the process
Until our ultimate deletion
At least from this earth
At least from this time
From these moments we fail to live in
Until the sunsets remind us
That they’re passing us by
And the stars mesmerize us
And in awe we cry
A life that fits like a glove
But is that how we want it
I mean truly just imagine
Without all the mystery
A severe lack of drama
Without sheer desperation
No set backs
Well then maybe we’d just
Feel nothing at all
And the thrill would be gone
And forever we’d fall
And the achievements would lose
A bit of their sweetness
Fail to climb
Eternally give in to our every weakness
The pleasure is in the struggle
In recognizing that we have what to fight for
What to live for
What to lose the fear of dying for
As I grow older, I recognize that life is about being lost and wandering. It’s about thinking and asking the better questions. It’s about taking every experience and growing. It’s about the journey and the struggle we go through in search of the ultimate truth.
So keep pushing through and always look for ways to make every experience last and become a permanent part of your life, wherever the road may take you. If you’re lucky, it just may take you back to your homeland. But until then, keep making the most of the here and now.