I know Israel as the place where I spent many summers, soaking up the sun, eating delicious food and hanging out with my cousins. I know it as a hub of technological innovation and cultural diversity. I know Israel as the place of refuge for my father’s parents after years of persecution in Yemen and for my mother’s father after being liberated from Auschwitz. Because of this, I have always known that I love Israel and found it hard to grasp how some people could hate it so vehemently. However, I also know that so many people have never been to Israel, so many people do not have the deep-rooted connection that I, along with many other Jews, have with the land. They have only read about its “demonic occupation and subjugation” of the Palestinian people. Thus, I struggled to articulate to my non-Jewish friends why Israel is so important beyond what may seem to them like my trivial reasons.
I have always known that I love Israel and found it hard to grasp how some people could hate it so vehemently.
So, I decided to apply for Write On For Israel, a program that teaches high schoolers to be effective pro-Israel advocates on campus. This way, I could learn what to say when people ask me how I can still support Israel after reading the headlines. After many sessions learning the facts and the history, the program culminated in an intense, weeklong trip to Israel. We met with soldiers, an Arab-Israeli social worker, Israeli and Palestinian teens and various experts on the conflict.
But the most important moment for me happened on the bus when it was just us—35 Jewish-American high school seniors and our five chaperones. We had spent the day in Gush Etzion, a collection of Jewish settlements in the Judaean mountains. As we were leaving, we passed the border of Area A, which was marked by a red sign that read, in Arabic, Hebrew and English, as follows: “This Road leads To Area ‘A’ Under The Palestinian Authority The Entrance For Israeli Citizens Is Forbidden, Dangerous To Your Lives And Is Against The Israeli Law.” In order to see this sign up close, we took our huge, Israeli tour bus all the way up to it—to the border.
As we got closer and closer to Area A, we realized there was no way for us to turn around legally and safely. And so, our bus slowly started backing up onto the highway, turning around and creating a huge traffic jam. Everyone on the bus began to shout that if we pass the sign, we will die! It literally says so! All the while, there were pedestrians and drivers guiding our driver so that he could safely get us out of this mess. After what felt like an eternity, but was probably only about three minutes, we were back on the road to our hotel in Jerusalem.
Once the chaos died down, one of our chaperones stood up and asked, “Can anyone tell me if the people that were helping us get out of that traffic jam were Jews or Arabs?” The answer was no.
People from all corners of the world and all walks of life are brought together to create the beautiful, diverse and innovative community that is Israel.
None of us was able to answer the question because there is no way of knowing. This moment reaffirmed my support for the State of Israel. Despite everything that is said about the division between Jews and Arabs, I was able to see a sense of camaraderie. In Israel, people help each other without question. They don’t ask you first if you are a Jew, a Muslim or a Christian. They don’t ask if you are religious, secular or anywhere in between. They just help each other because it is the right thing to do. Because Israel is not the apartheid state it is made out to be.
I now know what to say when people ask me why Israel is so important. It is not just because I have grown up spending summers there with my cousins. It is not because of all the lives that have been improved by emigrating, the beautiful beaches, nor the delicious food. It is because people from all corners of the world and all walks of life are brought together to create the beautiful, diverse and innovative community that is Israel.
Molly Jacobi is a senior at Baruch College Campus High School and a member of the Write On For Israel class of 2018.