Touchdown

Landing

And finally I have landed in Israel and after long lines and numerous ceremonies I am an עולה חדש! The flight to Israel was an odd conflagration of emotions; sentimentality of my previous trips here, March of the Living and Tiferet, nostalgia of the moments here with the friends that I left behind in the United States, and an overwhelming excitement to come here finally as an Israeli. To walk off the plane with the Israeli flag that I bought in tenth grade and walked through Auschwitz and Birkenau with, finally planting it back (metaphorically) where it belongs, was amazing. I, with the flag I carried, was coming home. The stripes and star, blue and white, waving in the heat and chaos on the tarmac of Ben Gurion Airport encouraged me ever more to defend her and the country for which she flew.

The last half-hour of the flight was the wildest ride I’ve ever seen on an airplane. All 125 soldiers-to-be and many more Olim were chanting and singing, news cameras walking up and down the aisles documenting everything. We sang every song from the contemporary Israeli rap to songs only heard at Bar Mitzvahs. The last song we sang of course, right as the wheels touched down on Eretz Yisrael, was Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. Shivers ran down my spine as I sang, even shouted, the anthem that I could finally call my own. For so many people Hatikvah (The hope) is a call for unity and nationalism of Israel and as I took my first steps off the plane new life was breathed into me- I am no longer a tourist. My hope for so long to become an Israeli citizen was finally being realized.

I was approached by various news sources in New York to talk about my story; coming from college in Boston, being born to American, non-Hebrew speaking parents, to come to Israel and draft into the IDF. I guess the story spoke to people because they approached me once again on the airplane to do a live interview on morning TV on one of Israel’s largest news sources, Arutz 2. They asked me if I could do the interview in Hebrew and I said I would try. Thankfully, the time spent over the summer practicing the language with those in my Garin allowed me to be confident in the fact that I could at least hold a conversation and be interviewed in Hebrew. Without the countless nights of “practicing”, (informally speaking Hebrew), I would be completely sunk, unable even to hail a taxi to take me from the airport. The interview turned out okay, with help from Tal, a girl in my Garin. I hope it was okay, but I asked her what one of the questions meant on live-TV! The interviewers found it funny though and I hope I didn’t make a huge fool out of myself by having to ask Tal what they were asking me, but hey, I guess that’s what family is for.

 It was amazing to be welcomed into Israel with such an honor. Just to talk about my story a little bit (even only for five or ten minutes) on live Israeli television spoke volumes about the character and spirit of Israel. Within the first 24 hours of being here as a citizen, already somebody wanted to hear what I, a new immigrant from America, wanted to say!

Sitting at Noam’s family’s house (a friend in the Garin) made me realize one of the things that make Israel so special. In the late afternoon, just before the sunsets, an odd quiet comes over the area, indeed a quiet that speaks to the soul, revitalizing it as if the air is blowing new life into the lungs of the recipient. There is sanctity in quiet, something seldom felt in the high-paced, upbeat lifestyle of the United States, especially Los Angeles. I sat and talked with Noam and his cousin for a while, relaxing and enjoying the quiet, the peace that I had so long been without. In Los Angeles, we go on trips to the beach or go hiking early in the morning to feel such peace, but here it is right outside. I am thankful for these moments and for being welcomed into this house as family, especially after such a long and arduous trip. After thirty-four house in airports and on airplanes, to stretch out and reflect quietly is a godsend. The feeling was continued, even amplified at Holit (my kibbutz) where it is always quiet (save for my Garin of 24 Americans). The peace and sanctity of the lifestyle here really puts in perspective my life. It is unimaginable to anybody in the United States, but even a place within walking distance of Egypt and Gaza is one of the most tranquil places I have ever been in my life. 

The road to Israel has been long; filled with long lines and many pictures, speeches and tears, but finally I am at my new home. Soon I will see my brother and madrichim (counselors) from Tiferet and I could not be more excited. I miss already all those that are staying behind, but the immense support that I have received from all of my friends and family encourages me constantly to continue to pursue my dream here. Finally I have plunged headfirst into the unknown. I could not be happier.

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What it Means to Leave

 

 

Saying goodbye to my parents

Although I am already in Israel and did not have time to post it before I left, it might still be relevant to post as it informs my current experiences

In the last few days that I have here in the United States, I have become more reserved; wishing less to speak and to visit with friends and family than to sit quietly alone. To read, think, and delve truly into what it means to plunge into the unknown has taken me over and caused me to look at the world in a way that I never have before. Each moment, fleeting it always may have been, has recently reached a feverish pace. I am running away and toward the next moment, trying to squeeze each bit of emotion and enjoyment of the last, while simultaneously preparing for the next. To sit and be quiet is something seldom done in this world of the super-sonic and instantly-updating. We are addicted to connection– to be beyond reach to those around us is unimaginable. But what are we giving up by constantly being in contact? We are only able to hear our voices as mere whispers under the deafening drone of the present (our immediate lives). We disconnect ourselves from our being. We shy away from fear, pain, and loneliness and would rather fill our moments with the ephemeral rush of safety, pleasure, and company.

When is the last time any of us sat and thought, allowed ourselves to confront what scares us? Do we even know what we would say to ourselves were there not the blinking cursor of a computer screen always in front of us? I am afraid and that is okay. I confront my fears, my reservations, my anxieties because they are what lets me know that I am still alive.

As I sit before the computer screen, contemplating what exactly to put down in writing, it seems immensely difficult to describe the feelings that I am having. Recently, before I board the plane to Israel, I have surrounded myself with those close to me, friends and family with whom I have spent the last nineteen years of my life. For the first time in a long time, there are no sounds reverberating around my house. Everybody is away and I am left with my thoughts. I realize now, as I sit here, that I have been avoiding this exact moment: the moment that it will hit me that I am leaving my house, my parents and brothers, my childhood friends, and all the other intangibles that make home feel like home.

How does one create a home? Is it dictated by where they live? Is it the people that surround us in our home? is it that indescribable smell or sound as we enter our homes after a long day? And the most important question of all; how do we pick up our lives and create a new home for ourselves? It is a fact of life.

When I was a child, I had major separation anxiety. There was a time when I was in elementary school where it was difficult for me to even get dropped off at school. My parents rightfully so decided to send me to sleep away camp to help me get over my anxieties of being without them and being away from home. And, to their dismay, I cried almost all day every day for the two week session. However, I did learn the valuable lesson that even if something scared me and even if I felt completely alone and uncomfortable in the world, seven-year-old me was okay. I still remember on the last day of camp, my bunk and I were sitting in a circle talking about our favorite parts about camp. While most of the kids talked about how they loved their drama camp, or making new friends, or an awesome hike we went on, I said “the best part about camp for me was hating camp.” I will never forget what that meant to me. Even as a seven-year-old, even being seriously and dramatically upset by being away from my home and parents for such a long time, I loved the adventure of being away from them, I loved the feeling of being on the tail end of the experience and knowing that I conquered my fears. In a few hours time, my parents would pick me up and tonight I would sleep in my own bed! Needless to say, seven-year-old Elon would never imagine going to college out of the state or studying and moreover moving across the world. But somehow I got used to being alone, being okay without the seeming comforts of “home” and adjusting to my new lifestyles.

I’ve grown up in the same house since before I could talk. The dining room table has burn marks from when a Hannukiyah fell over when I was six. My living room has seen pillow forts, sleep-overs, movie nights, passover seders, and high school parties. My pool has shrunk before my eyes from an insurmountable ocean to a wading pool. In the same room that I sleep in every night, long ago my mom would pick me up for “stand-up snuggling” while my dad would read to me and my two brothers. I have taken the same route to school since before I could comprehend what a street was; I now drive it every day to teach those young children, whose lives I can relate to so much, how to swim. I was in their shoes not too long ago, and in the not-so-distant future, some of them might be in my shoes, teaching  and coaching the next generation. The scary thing, after all of this continuity is that now I don’t know the next time this will truly be my “home” again. Facebook says that I “live in Boston” but even as I attended college, had a bed and all of my clothing there, I still lived here in Encino. As that plane takes off from LAX, it will be my last time for a long time living in Encino.

Quickly approaches the moment that I check my bags in and step onto the plane that will plunge me, quite literally, into the unknown.

There is a difference between this flight and the one I took almost exactly a year ago; the flight to Boston. On that flight, I knew I had the support system of my best friend and many acquaintances in only a slightly foreign city. I had my mother with me, to for lack of a better term, hold my hand in that transition. It was tough getting used to the dorm life, my new neighbors, the dining hall, and of course the beautiful city of Boston. But by the end of that week, I knew my way around (as much as any West Coaster could). I quickly could adjust to my new life.

The only similarity between this flight and that to Boston is that there is again that support structure. This time it is not my mother and my best friend holding my hand, but rather the new family that I have created. The past few months have been rife with countless nights with my fellow Garin-mates; partying, travelling, becoming close. In my quiet moments I revel on the fact of how vividly I remember stepping into that conference room for my first seminar and meeting every one of them. I had a few days earlier came to LA and the weather shock gave me a continuous migrane for the whole trip. It was hard for me to be chipper and enthusiastic when I was uncomfortable both physically and mentally. Undoubtedly I had my reservations: they were already friends and I lived across the country. They were either still in high school or Asher’s age. With only a handful of exceptions  they all had Israeli parents and spoke Hebrew in their household. There was no way they could become my family in such a quick period of time. But the unthinkable happened and I have become close with these amazing people, each with their own amazing story. When I look back on how I attempted to speak Hebrew with them a mere few months ago, I cannot help but laugh.

The first ice-breaker was not only an ice-breaker to meet everybody and to get to know names. It was an ice-breaker into my frozen tundra of unused Hebrew. Besides for one friend in Boston, Moshe, I hadn’t spoken a word of Hebrew in over a year. For the first time since Hebrew class at Milken, I was hearing nothing but the language: my headache worsened as the ringing in my ears grew. It was a blur as we went around the circle, each saying there name and where they had a צלקת (scar). Of course my Hebrew was never good enough to know how to say scar in Hebrew and alas, I had long ago forgotten the names of the body parts in this language. Hell, I could barely say “I go to school in Boston.”

All of my life I have been searching for that big adventure. I have been yearning for the moment that I can move fully into that which is unknown to me.

Each and every person has their reasons for picking up their lives here in Los Angeles and across the nation and world to move to Israel. For some, it is the search of a better life – to make something more of themselves. For others it is the feelings of not belonging in American society – they mesh better with the societal fabric of Israel. Through all of the hundreds of conversations i’ve had with those that support me (and even those that don’t) I’ve begun to understand that the complexity of such a decision transcends anything that could be said or written in a the simplicity of our dialects. But a few days from now, each one of us with come together, board the plane, and start a new life. Our pasts are for the most part unknown to one another, but our futures (at least for the next few years) will all play our before our eyes together.

Huskies for Israel and Students for Palestine

Yesterday I went to a meeting for the group “Huskies for Israel” who were hosting two currently active Israeli soldiers to speak about the topics of the role of the IDF in Israel’s defense, their experience as Israeli soldiers, and how the IDF is of paramount importance, especially on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day).

I will admit I was napping when the meeting started. I knew what the meeting was going to be about; I had heard the speech before. Sitting in a classroom talking with two soldiers and American students about the importance of Israel’s Defense and the Holocaust pales in comparison to my experience of Yom HaShoah last year. A year ago yesterday, I was talking to and listening to the stories of survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, and the Warsaw Ghetto. So I finally decided, more out of guilt for not commemorating Yom HaShoah than anything, to attend the meeting instead of hit the snooze button one more time. And when I entered the room where the meeting took place, it was packed. I was astonished. Even the Passover Seder that I attended in Northeastern’s grand hall was not as full as this classroom. I was overjoyed; Northeastern students supported Israel

On Facebook over the past few months, I have seen my peers rally against their schools’ pending decisions to divest from Israel. Namely those friends who attend UCSB and UC Irvine have been extraordinarily vocal against the rising popularity of Anti-Israel sentiment. My school didn’t respond to the intellectual terrorism spread by Hamas and other groups.  At least my school understood the complexity of the situation. My peers are from around the world, from disparate places; France, Ghana, and yes even Saudi Arabia and Egypt… and they, we, got it! Even if they didn’t agree with the IDF and Israeli politics, they were there to question the Israeli officers, engage in debate, and pursue dialogue that brings closer the realization of peace.

But then reality hit me. As the meeting started, whispers started going around and a friend told me that there was a good portion of the students in attendance that were there to protest the IDF; they were from the Anti-Israel group on campus, Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine. And sure enough, after the soldiers were introduced, more than half of the students got up and started chanting “no justice, no peace!” and other obviously practiced slogans. They then ran out, not before the group photographer yelling behind him in Hebrew “the Israeli Army only wants war!”. They left. We sat there in silence for a few minutes. We saw the heads and jackets of police officers begin to fill the hallway outside. I was in shock.

The meeting went on, and save for the impromptu (or maybe not) protest, it was everything I expected it to be. The soldiers told their stories; what Yom HaShoah is like in Israel with the sirens blaring for two minutes and the whole country at a standstill. The students in attendance asked questions: “what is it like coming to the US?” “What do you say to the protesters like the ones we saw?”. But in the back of my mind, and seemingly in the back of most of the minds in attendance was “where did that come from and what can be done to fix it?” I felt ashamed. My brother served in the IDF, I am moving to Israel in a few months and I sat there sitting on my hands as a group of students from my school yelled slander and defamation at soldiers for defending Israel, and those who supported them.

When I called my mom after the meeting was over and told her what happened, she didn’t seem half as surprised as I thought she would be. “‘Pro-Palestinian’ has come to equate ‘anti-Israeli’ in the hearts and minds of many proponents of liberalism. This is information terrorism.” The protesters knew exactly what they were doing. They didn’t come to the meeting to engage in spirited debate over the righteousness and ethics of the IDF. Instead they came to scream insidious allegations and take pictures. They staged the “photo-op” and we unknowingly helped them. It doesn’t matter what was said or whether they made an impact on us, all that matters is that they have the picture of students waving kafiyas and marching out on Israeli soldiers and their supporters. In their books, that is a win for their anti-Israel cause.

But where does true and lasting progress come from? Certainly not from walkouts and protests and “Apartheid Weeks” on college campuses. Certainly not from institutional divestments from countries. True and lasting progress especially in the Middle East can only ever come from cooperation and open debate. And that is what I wished for. Even if the Anti-Israeli group had stayed and asked the tough questions and made their accusations, there would have been room for dialogue, rebuttal, understanding, and at the very least respect. But that is what it comes down to; a lack of respect. They don’t respect us, our viewpoints, or our basic desire (and right) to commemorate a holy and meaningful day in our history. Perhaps, like many demagogues in Hamas and Fatah, they don’t respect our right to exist. That is the problem. The same day, Holocaust Remembrance Day, that Hamas fired rockets across the border into towns and cities in Southern Israel, anti-Israeli students fired words of hate speech and bigotry into a meeting meant to memorialize our victimized ancestors and honor those who protect us from our enemies.

Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine hides the fact that they are not only Pro-Palestinian, they are Anti-Israeli. There is a difference between wanting and striving for a lasting solution and the creation of a state for a distinct ethnic group, and abhorring and protesting one of the two necessary parties for making peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. There is a difference between being “pro-Palestinian” and “anti-Israeli” and that is what is all too often overlooked. I could be called “pro-Palestinian” in that I recognize the Palestinian right to freedom and self-determination; however making baseless claims about Israel as an “apartheid state” and the IDF as “occupation forces” is anti-Israeli. The difference is the anti-Israeli rejection of the Israeli point-of-view. Israel has, just as every sovereign country does, the right and obligation to defend itself against enemies both foreign and domestic. All measures taken in Gaza and the West Bank are in the defense of the state and citizens of Israel. Maria, one of the Israeli officers put it best in saying that “the Israeli Defense Forces only acts as a defense force, not as a war creating force.” Rejection of Israel’s right and obligation to protect itself and its citizens is simply anti-Israeli.

The day that both sides across college campuses nationwide mutually respect each other and debate, peace and mutual understanding can occur. Until then, no amount of protests, fights, or disruptions can bring about any change. These protests, these divestments, these blind proclamations of war crimes and injustices don’t bring the sides closer to each other. They alienate. They don’t only push the two opposing camps farther apart, they leave less room for the moderates to have a voice. It is exactly this alienation that leads to viewing the “other”, the enemy as the indiscriminate and inanimate enemy with which wars can be waged. On a human level, it is this dehumanization of the “other” that allows someone to kill his fellow man. The majority of Israelis, along with the majority of Palestinians want peace. Both wish for a world where bombs and tanks didn’t have to be used and young men didn’t have to die. I wish for a university campus where nobody is subjected to the type of information terrorism as I witnessed yesterday.

If there ever will be positive change in the situation, both on campuses across the country and in Middle Eastern Politics itself, we must bridge the gap, not widen it. Senseless hatred gets neither side anywhere. The worst part of the whole ordeal was to hear from one student who “isn’t even technically Jewish” that he came to the meeting simply because he wanted to hear the other side because he had not had the opportunity to hear or discuss the Israeli point of view in his Middle Eastern Affairs class here at Northeastern. Instead of shying away from the tough questions and the tough debates, let’s act like rational adults and talk this through. It is wrong for college students to be placed in situations where ignorance is exploited and indoctrination takes place. That is what I found yesterday. I hope that there are more students who are willing to go to meetings, regardless of their beliefs, to hear both sides. The student who joined the meeting because of his experiences in his Middle East Studies class is nothing less than a hero. He dropped any predispositions he had. He asked the tough questions. He informed himself on the opinions of both sides so that he could make a decision for himself on what is right and what is wrong.

When I got back to my dorm later that night, I began doing a Facebook search on the group “Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine”, and I found a picture of the group that had walked out of the meeting with the caption “A huge thank you to everyone who came out tonight and showed that the IDF are NOT welcome at Northeastern!!” In a school where the students are welcomed from around the world to study, and mutual acceptance is expected, to proclaim that a group of soldiers, who’s job it is to simply protect citizens regardless of their own political views, are not welcome is heartbreaking. Northeastern, as an institution, boasts that it educates some of the most critical thinking, warm-hearted, world-shaping students in the world. All I could hope for is that there can be a distinction made by these brilliant minds between politics and civic responsibility. As Northeastern University students, we are given the ability and therefore the responsibility to put down our differences and be the change we want to see in society. Nothing can be changed through senseless hatred. Nothing can be changed through alienation. Nothing can be changed through anything but the difficult and honest conversations between two opposing ideologies. As Northeastern boasts itself as being an institution of tolerance, mutual acceptance, and higher education, I beg not only the “Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine” but every student to pursue higher education about world events, accept others’ points of view as valid, and most fundamentally; accept all students for their beliefs, their ethnicities, and their cultures. The Pro-Israel groups on campus certainly don’t disrupt the NUSJP meetings or protests against actions we believe are legitimate (albeit complicated and controversial).

If March of the Living taught me one thing, it was that standing up against injustice is of pivotal importance. The Pro-Palestinian group certainly was standing up to the injustice they perceive in the world. But it also taught me to ask hard questions both to myself and to those around me. That is what NUSJP did not do. They did not ask, they did not state. They came, they dropped their hate-speech-filled bomb, took their pictures, and left before any rebuttal or response could be made.

On Yom HaShoah, we bear witness to the Holocaust and the six million Jews, as well as the millions of Poles, Romani, homosexuals, and others who were killed. Yesterday and every day I reminisce on listening to those stories and thinking about what happens when disrespect becomes hatred and one group begins to demonize “the other” and engage in libelous activity. Yesterday I bore witness not only to why it is important to have Israel, but also why it is important to have respect for all people, and their common humanity.

When we say, as Jews tied indefinitely to the State of Israel, “Never Again” on Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are not saying “never again to the Jews”, we say “never again to anybody, anywhere”.. As Israelis and Jews, we understand the need for protection, statehood, and justice. Indeed, better than any other nationality on earth, we understand. However, antagonizing, protesting, and rejecting an open offer to talk helps nothing. This rejection leads in one direction: alienation.

I will never forget the stories that I heard first-hand from survivors of the Holocaust. I will always bear witness to those sights of horrible atrocity: Auschwitz and Majdanek. I will also never stop believing in the good of mankind.

To the supporters of Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine: Protest whatever you want, but realize what it is that you are protesting and what you are supporting. The mission of NUSJP is to “work to raise awareness about the plight of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and inside Israel”. Do exactly that, but don’t disrupt a meeting with IDF soldiers where they are sharing what it means to them to defend their country against threats of terrorism and anti-Semitism, especially on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Don’t make sweeping allegations and then march out waving kafiyas as if it were a triumph. If you see a problem with something in the world and you want to raise awareness about it, talk. Debate. Don’t spread ideological terrorism and at the very least respect that sanctity and validity of all nationalities, not just your own.

Tiferet: Where it all Began

Room 15 and Nitay outside of Friedman Dorm in Alexander Muss

Room 15 and Nitay outside of Friedman Dorm in Alexander Muss High School in Israel

Many people who do not know me and my personal history have asked me “where did all this come from? Where did it all begin?” The only answer to their questions is three letters with infinite meaning: TIF.

Milken, while doing a brilliant job at creating aware and active students that are active participants in the perpetuation of the State of Israel, has done (often blatently) a fantastic job at marketing their Tiferet Israel Fellowship program to every single 10th grader that graces Milken’s halls with their presence. Often times, as I’m sure many parents (as well as my own) will attest, Milken did too good a job at marketing the program to its students, so much so that for both my older brother Asher and I, Tiferet was a foregone conclusion; it was obvious that we would go. My parents put it extraordinarily well in saying that either they could allow Asher to leave for Israel for the better part of a semester and make him happy, or refuse to let him go and forever pit him against them. I remember the single condition they gave Asher before they signed the paperwork to join the program, “You can go on TIF if you promise not to join the Israeli army when you turn 18.” Those words set it motion the events that would transpire. Two sons and five years later, that promise could not have been broken more.

Whether or not my parents wanted it to or not, Tiferet has had a lasting impact on my life. It was the pivotal moment where Israel shifted from being the aloof location of my ancestral roots to being my spiritual homeland. In middle school, I reveled at the thought of being taught about Israel and about Tanakh; it seemed like the institution of Milken was shoving it down my peers and my throat, “why do I need to learn about that country? I’m not Israeli, I’ve never been there.” It was just another country, and eighth grade me wasn’t buying it. There was no way I was going to drink the Kool Aid. Mishnah was nothing more than a bunch of laws and scriptures complied by a bunch of close-minded scholars who were trying to impart hegemony over the population which they resided over. Hebrew was a dead language.

But then I went. The first time I visited Israel was for Asher’s induction ceremony into the Garin Tzabar program. I had just finished my first year of high school and I finally started getting the hang of the whole “Jewish” thing. Although I could not understand much of the Hebrew that my brother and the majority of the program spoke, I understood (albiet as an outsider) the sense of community that was present in this tiny state. Upon returning home, I began to miss Israel, miss those feelings of being “home” with that community and hearing that language that had until then been the vernacular of my Hebrew classes and nothing more.

But then I lived. I went on the Tiferet Israel Fellowship, not because I had some burning desire to foster a deep seeded connection to the Jewish State, but because it seemed like the best option I had. What 15 year old kid would give up the chance to live (away from his parents) in a wholly different country for the better part of a semester? And heck, it was almost free! School at Alexander Muss was, compared to Milken, a joke. Travelling with some of my best friends seemed like the perfect opportunity. What could be better? But while on TIF, something changed within me. At the start of the trip, I would laugh to myself and even openly ridicule my peers when they had those quintessential moments of Jewish epiphany. It seemed that all they were doing was laughing at the right moments and crying at the right moments. What follows is an excerpt from the journal I kept while on Tiferet:

“My first Shabbat in Jerusalem was not what I expected. There was a general hype         that everybody would have some sort of spiritual revelation at the Kotel or at Orthodox Saturday Services. Both were nice, it was refreshing to dance with Israeli soldiers and Chasidic Jews and ‘connect to the ages of Judaism’, but it was not in any way significant to my spiritual identity. The whole experience was beautiful in itself, uplifting, and definitely wholly outside of what I am used to… Orthodox services in the bomb shelter was more a novelty experience than anything else, and if anything, it distanced me from those who came to this sanctuary to pray on a weekly basis.”

But something changed. What began as simply a fun trip where I could hang out with friends and go on exciting trips began to have significant meaning to me. Our second trip to Jerusalem ironically did have that intense ardor that I had imagined and knew to be the “proper” experience of Israel. After that time, I stopped criticizing my classmates for the experiences I thought they were having because I could not discern my peers’ sincerity from feigned emotional interest because I myself had experienced both.

“Atop Mt. Scopus, while singing ‘Yerushalayim Shel Tzahav’, I had my ‘cliché Jerusalem experience’… when we, the Milken Community High School in Israel, sang a song praising Jerusalem, amid the rain, snow, and hail, I, arguably for the first time in my life ‘felt God’. It is if the hail coincided with our song; God accepting our prayers. It was the first time I felt the community of Tiferet Israel Fellowship 2010. It was for me, my true spiritual welcoming to Israel. I was thoroughly frozen and I loved it. I felt God within me.”

Hod Hasharon quickly became my home, the Israelis my family, and Hebrew my language. Upon my return to Los Angeles and Milken, I was reinvigorated with Jewish Studies and Hebrew, I knew subconsciously and often overtly had become centerpieces l to my understanding of the world and shaped how I viewed it. Junior and Senior year became defined by my interest and love of these classes; they were the only remaining vestiges of my experiences in Israel. I felt that, although I had grown up in Southern California with two non-Israeli parents, a piece of me was missing during my time in California (and even in the United States as a whole). I knew I was going to go back.

When I tell people about Tiferet, I say that I lived in Israel rather than I studied there, because that was the true definition of my experience. I cannot determine for the 75 other students from Milken that went on the trip with me, but my experience was not necessarily defined by the book-learning commonplace to “studying” somewhere (even somewhere abroad) but rather by living. I attempted to speak Hebrew as much as I could and to interact with the society that bustled around me outside of the gates of my English-speaking international school. I cannot say that it is true for all of my peers because I know how easy it was to create a “Muss bubble”, but I did not merely study in Israel, I lived there.

I promised to myself and to my teachers and Madrichim (counselors) that I would return to Israel in one way or another. While I could not and did not promise anybody (even myself) that I would eventually join the IDF, I felt as though it was tacitly understood. The last words that I would write during my time in Israel were as follows:

“I, like all those who I asked about the topic of being a member of the Jewish National Homeland, challenge anybody who wants to find out what it means, just like I did, to come and see for his or herself. As I board the plane back to my life in Los Angeles, I do not just carry the thousand memories of a thousand moments with me. I do not just carry the souvenirs, the tangible artifacts of my trip, with me. I do not just carry an experience. I carry with my sliver of Israel: “Am, Medina, Torah v’Anshei Yisrael” (Nation, State, Teachings, and People of Israel) with me home. Just as I am taking my piece of Israel home, I will bring that piece back. I will bring Israel one step closer to being complete.”

“I never thought I would come out of my four-month experience a Zionist, having a desire to come and build the land as much as I do to be successful in life. Living in Israel has given me a new vantage point on life even. With the Rite of Return, I, Elon Zlotnik, have added on my own personal amendment; the ‘Obligation of Return’.  Because I am enabled by Israel to come at any moment for any reason, to find safe haven within its borders, I also am obligated to do my civil duty to this land. It is my duty as a Jew, moreover as a member of “Am Yisrael” to do my duty, whether it is military service or civil service of another type. I always wondered what made Asher, my brother, move to Israel, on the account of a mere four-month program here. What I failed to realize is the importance of the program; learning what Israel is. Again, I never understood why so many people found such a profound connection to Israel, how a Los Angeles Jew could call Israel their “homeland”. Now I see, at the end of this program, I cannot describe what Israel means to me, besides that it is my homeland.”

Such strong words sound astoundingly rash coming from a 15 year old and I am the one who wrote them! But these words were echoed by most of my peers and best friends about their experience on Tiferet; my case was not the exception. All that I wish and all the I hope for is that anybody and everybody that has gone on TIF has kept these sentiments close to their hearts, has read and reread what they wrote during their time living in Israel, and has made the TIF experience part of how they view the world. I know that it is for me. When a 15 year old “you” challenges you to stay true to your word, there isn’t much you can do. With the fire and with passion that I had after Tiferet I return to Israel. I am bringing home that sliver that I have so long manifested inside of me.

There have been many other experiences in my life that have pushed me forward into making the decision to join the IDF, but Tiferet was my point of inception. I am advocating TIF in the sense that it did spark my love for Israel and my feelings of Zionism. I write about it to highlight that it was the turning point where i went from thinking Hebrew and Jewish studies and Israel had little meaning, impact, and relevance to my life to having major gravity and importance in my outlook on life. Tiferet certainly isn’t the reason why I am joining the Army, but it did play a role in shaping me into the person who made that decision.

No experience or decision rides simply on the back of a singular previous experience. It is the butterfly effect: “the flutter of a butterfly’s wings can create tsunamis on the otherside of the world”. Every step that you take leads you to be the person that you are. Many of my friends and classmates went on Tiferet and never batted an eye at the idea of moving to Israel, in fact most just had the incredible four months studying abroad that I originally described, and there is nothing wrong with that. For me, Tiferet was simply the first step I took in this direction of moving to Israel and joining the IDF, nothing more, nothing less.

 

Finally meeting the Garin: לפגוש סוף סוף את הגרעין

.אז אחשב, עד הזמן שאני אלך לארץ, אני מקווה לכתוב בעברית יותר ויתור
היום היה יוֹם רשון בסמינר של גרין זבר הרגשתי שאני חוזר הביתא. כולם הכירו אחד את השני, אז חשבתי שיהיה כשה לבוא לפוה, אבל הם מברכים אותי כמו משפחה. בזות מקום הרגשתי שהם המשפחה החדש שלי. לא הרגשתני כזה חוץ מהזמן בארץ עם החברים הכי טובים בעולם. אולי זא משהו בתרבות ישראלי, אבל הבנתי למה כולם אומרים שהמשפחת בגרין הם משפחה האמיתי ביותר. חוצ מזה, היה יום כיף, לראות את כל האנשים שילכו אתי לארץ. הדבר הכי קשה לי, זה לשמוע את העברית ולהשתמש בשפה. מהזמן שהיתי בבית ספר ’מילקן’ לא שמתי עברית בגלל, ולא דבררתי בעברית עם אף–אחד (חוץ מחבר שלי בשם מושה שהוה ישראלי). יהיה לי דף חדש בשבלי אני מתרגש ללכת איתם לישראל ולבנות חיים חדשים. קבלתי את המבחן עברית שלי, והבנתי שאני צריך לתרגל כתיבה, קריאה ודיבור בעברית עם אני יכול. יש בגרין שלי אנשים שגמרו אוניברסיטה, וגם יש כמא שלא גמרו בית ספר תיכון, אבל לכולם יש אהבה וקשר לארץ ישראל. ברור שיש רק אוד שני אנשים אמריקאים (בלי הורימ ישראלים) אבל לא אכפת להם מאין כולם ואיך העברית של כולם, העיקר הוא שאנחנו פה ביחד, מהווה את העתיד. היום, שאני כותב את זה,היה בפעם הראשונה שאני לא רוצא ללכת לשיעורים בבוסטון; באמת אני רק רוצה לעשות את זה, אבל חיים לא כמו בחלומות. אני מבין שאני צריך לגמור את הלימודים שלי שם ואז ללכת. לעשות בדרך אחרת זה הדרך קל, דרך לא בשבלי ולאתיד שלי. אני לא יכול רק לחלום. שכתוב אל גופי ’אם תרצו, אין זו אגדה’. אבל אחשב, החלום לא רק בחלומות, הוא פה בעולם. אני רק צריך לעשות.

אז אני אתחיל לדבר ולתרגם לאנגלית. בזמנים בעתיד אני מקווה שהעברית שלי יהיה יותר טוב ויהיה יותר קל לקרוא.

So now, until the time that I go to Israel, I will try to write in Hebrew more and more. Today was the first day in my seminar for Garin Tzabar and I felt that I was coming home. Because most of the members of the Garin have been together both in Tzofim (Israeli Scouts) and attended their first seminar together, most everybody knew each other at the beginning of this seminar, so I thought that it would be hard coming here, but they welcomed me instantly as if I was family. In this place, I felt as though this was going to become my new family. I haven’t felt that connection outside of my time in Israel with my best friends in Tiferet. it was as if, even though we come from many backgrounds and are differing widely in age, we have come together through a common passion and goal to join the IDF. Other than this, it was a fun day seeing everybody that will be going with me to Israel. The hardest thing for me was to hear Hebrew and especially to use the language as my basis for communication. From the time I was in high school at Milken, I haven’t heard or spoken Hebrew at all (besides speaking with my friend Moshe who is Israeli). It is as though I writing a new page in the book of my life. I am excited to go with them to Israel and to build our new live there together. I received the Hebrew test that I took at my interview with the Army officials and I realized from the score that I need to speak, write and read Hebrew whenever I can. In the Garin there are kids that have already finished their first degree from university and yet others that are still in the process of graduating high school. but the commonality that brings us together is the undying love for and connection to the State of Israel. It has become obvious to me that there are only two other kids in my Garin that are ethnically American (without Israeli parents and without family in Israel) but it doesn’t matter to anybody where each person comes from or how well each person speaks Hebrew. The main thing is that we are here together in the present until the foreseeable future. Today, as I write this, is the first time that I didn’t want to go back to my studies in Boston. That is not to say that I don’t miss my friends and miss the life I have there. Rather that I have found and am becoming accustomed to the reality of the new life that I have chosen for myself. Honestly, in the present moment, I cannot help but have the desire to finally start my new life, but the life that we live isn’t that of our dreams. I understand that I need to finish my studies for the year and then (and only then) go. To follow any path but that one would be the easy path, the path that I am trying to escape, the path that is not mine presently and in the future. I can’t only dream; as it is written on my chest “If you will it, it is no dream.” But now, the dream is not a figment of my imagination; my musings and aloof notions of what I should do. The dream is here in the world that I live in. Now, I only need to do.

In future posts, I will try to use and practice my Hebrew so that it will become better and easier to read.

 

How Things Change

The following is a paper for my final in a class titled “Personal Skill Development”. It is interesting and ironic that although the dreams I described in this paper are the ultimate dreams I had for my life, I was ignoring the most important and compulsive dream I’ve ever had. Coming to Boston and Northeastern, I tried to lay to rest my burning desire for joining the IDF, the dream that had been present in my mind since the moment I left my semester abroad in Israel in the tenth grade. I was focused on my ultimate life goals rather than my immediate dream and desire to build myself through the experience of the IDF. I remember on one occasion, as I was doing my homework reading for my “International Affairs and Globalization” class, I threw down my book and exclaimed, almost at a volume level that would have disturbed the whole library floor on which I worked, that I was done reading about “The Globalization of Sushi”. At that moment, my burning disquietude with my studies and my life in general again were associated with the cause of these feelings. I told Nathan and Patrick that I wanted to leave and join the IDF. Although I chalked this up to me wanting to escape the mundane, humdrum lifestyle of college, the real reason behind this exclamation ran deeper. I did want to join the IDF. That feeling was not going to go away. Although I didn’t know it while I wrote the proceeding essay about “If you will it…”, the most burning and essential dream to my being was left as exactly that: a dream. After I threw down my book and refused to consider the implications of Globalization on Sushi, I knew I had to give more weight to my dream of going to Israel. I have to will that dream into existence before all else. The content of this essay still rings true, but with a different dream in mind. Save for the dream described, this is my thought process, this is my lifestyle, this is how I chase my dreams and make them reality.

“אגדה זו אים תרצו אם”

“If you will it, it is no dream”

-Theodor Hezl

Elon Zlotnik

Personal Skill Development

Ms. Duchardt

11/15/12

This phrase, which translates to “If you will it, it is no dream” is one of the founding principals of the creation of the State of Israel. It is also the motto that I live my life by. The “Father of Zionism” Theodor Herzl first spoke these words more than a hundred years before the state was established. They became the rallying cry for Jews everywhere who, after the Holocaust, yearned for a country of their own, a homeland free from religious and ethnic persecution. To me, this phrase stands for the ideal that if I want something in life, truly yearn for it, I can make it a reality. This goes beyond the superfluous “I want to get an A on my midterm” or “I want to succeed in life”. It embodies the spirit of hard work and manifesting the dream we each have in reality. The only way to be successful in achieving something is to never stop fighting for that. Striving for the realization of the dream is what makes a dream transcend into reality. The word “will it” is put in the command form in Hebrew, translated as “you will it”. This speaks to the fact that many people do passively will things, but that does not mean that they become reality. This offers, rather, that if you actively will it, not just the philosophical ideal of it, but also with spirit and with body, nothing is impossible. Indeed, nothing that is a dream has to stay a dream. In fact, the things that I have willed, such as coming to Boston to study at Northeastern against the tacit and often vocal sentiments of my parents, and succeeding in school and in sport, have been because I have pushed these dreams past the point of being merely dreams. I actively pursued them because I wanted them so passionately. This saying rings true to me because especially in the modern age, we are taught to dream big and to work hard, as if these things are completely disconnected. Instead, this commands me to dream big and work hard towards that dream. Just as the pioneers of Israel worked through total adversity and fought many battles to realize the dream, I will continue to work hard to achieve my dreams. Being a Business major, for most people, entails working in school and in the workplace towards the ultimate goal of being successful fiscally. To me, being a Business major means giving myself the ability to “be the change I want to see in the world”. Without this, I would be nothing. There are many languages and versions of the phrase “if you will it…” but being raised speaking Hebrew connects me to this version the most. The grammar, sentence structure, and most of all idea behind the saying root me to my heritage. This saying will stick with me forever, continually motivating me to not settle for anything short of realizing my dream. The world that I imagine is a world that is free of energy sources that sap the environment of its natural beauty and resources; a world that runs on free energy. Indeed, bringing solar power into the spectrum and eventually into the position that natural gas, coal, and gasoline currently hold is my dream. With this phrase I will not stop until this dream is realized. I will be the change I want to see in society. I do will it and while it is a dream at the moment, I wake every day fighting to make it a reality.

Some of My Best Friends

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Room 15 is where I met three of my best friends for life. When we moved to Israel in early 2010, we were friends, best friends perhaps, but nothing close to the relationship we share today. It is impossible to describe what living with three guys, having little work and lots of play, and experiencing Israel and its history does to somebody. We became brothers. They helped me grow, they helped me learn, they changed my life.

Aaron:

I have been at school with Aaron since Kindergarten, we’ve been close friends for as long as I can remember. But I could never have prepared for living in Friedman dorm at Alexander Muss High School in Israel with him. He taught me how to enjoy life for its simpler joys: dancing to corny music, taking pride in being frugal (especially when we could call it “scumming”), and having an open heart to the world without filter. Aaron became and will forever stay, the epitome of self-confidence. He is overachieving, under recognized, and forever content. When we played Water Polo together in high school, the offense wasn’t run through him, quite on the contrary: the offense was run through him being a decoy. He still scored. He still got back on defense.He still was the one player I knew I could lean on when I couldn’t do my part. He was more valuable to the team than everybody else combined. He was hardworking, competitive, and understanding; a true leader. He didn’t win MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, or All-League. Overachieving, under recognized. He taught me the value of my life and my time. The trips we took camping and inventing and creating were some of the happiest times in my life. We explored, we built, we lived. Most of us lose our imagination and intrigue with the world as we get older; Aaron never did. Aaron never will.

Josh:

Josh works harder than anybody in the world that I know. He does not work hard to please others, but rather expects only the best from himself; anything less is not good enough. He taught me to push myself intellectually, physically, and emotionally. He taught me that I will never feel complete unless in give 100% to everything I do. There were no half-measures with Josh. Moreover, he understands me. He understands me not in an empathetic “I understand how you feel” but rather “I am right there feeling beside you.’ Although he lives a very different life than I do and works far harder than I do, I came to realize that Josh understands fundamentally what is driving me to join the IDF. I saw the same fire for Israel ignite within him on Tiferet and i doubt that fire has ever been extinguished (nor will it ever be). He understood the meaning of experiences deeper than anybody else. TIF was not just four months in paradise. March of the Living was not just an exploration in the history of Ashkenazi Jewry. With one look, especially on Tiferet and March of the Living, I knew that he understood. He got it. Few people have had the extraordinary opportunity of deeply talking with Josh. I did one better: I experienced with Josh. Today and forever, I know he will understand me. I know he will get me and my experiences in a way that nobody else can because we have experienced together. We lived together physically, mentally, and emotionally. Tiferet and March of the Living weren’t necessarily transformative in themselves. Indeed, most kids brushed the emotional ardor off within a few weeks of returning home. With Josh, the conversations and feelings we had gave those experience their meaning. I cannot fathom where I would be right now if I hadn’t lived with Josh; definitely not here and definitely not having these feelings. He challenges me to be the best I can be. Always.

Ben:

Ben has been my best friend since Middle School. My first real friend in the tumultuous experience that is Middle School. He helped transform me from the kid I was at Stephen S. Wise to the person I became at Milken. Living with him in Israel made me realize that sometimes I do need to chill out, sometimes I am too intense. With him, no matter what we’ve ever done, its been relaxing. Playing X-Box, going to Lunch, even hiking the hills around Jerusalem, I looked at Ben and got the tacit response “chill out a second, laugh at yourself a bit”, and thats what I did. I truly came to value the experience of separating yourself completely from your surroundings, your experiences, your emotions, and looking at the lighter side of things. That being said, when Ben was serious, he meant business. I once told him that if he ever wanted to lose weight and gain muscle, he has to stop chilling out, if he wanted to build a better body, he had to start today. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Those words, although I said them in passing before I left school one day, changed his whole perception of himself. He did make that day the first day. He did start working out. Before the year was out, he was one of the strongest kids I know. He is also the most loving person I know. Nobody in the world, certainly nobody I know, could ever hate Ben. He exudes friendliness, not cordiality. He has the skill, even the superpower that when you are talking to him, he gives you his undivided attention. Nothing else is going on in the world when you’re with Ben. He is a people’s person, a genuine friend. Nobody could duplicate that.

Room 15:

These three friends and I, together, make what was known in our grade as “Room 15”. When we were together, we were inseparable. Together, we were nothing less than “Room 15” and everything that entailed. We are the best combination of attributes I could have ever hoped for. We complimented and built off one-another. Together, we shaped each others world and each others existence. Room 15 was the catalyst. The four months I spent living with Aaron, Josh, and Ben were the “first days of the rest of my life”. Room 15 shaped me and continues to shape me. The first conversations I ever had regarding my joining the IDF were in Room 15. They certainly weren’t the last conversations I had with Room 15 on the topic.

Now far away (I am in Boston, they are at school on the West Coast) and going even farther away, I come to realize the value that this collective friendship had on me. It continues to shape me, it continues to force me to go, to live out my dreams, and even to laugh at myself. Without these friends I would not be the Elon I am today. Thank you Room 15.