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Saturday, February 9, 2008

Old Roads Traveled In New Shoes

In October, shortly after Tom’s visit to Washington DC and Boston, I decided to apply to be a member of the ICC, the Israel on Campus Coalition, having reminisced with Tom about the great times I had there. Due to my support of Israel found in my previous semester there, and my willingness to support that pride in this great state, I decided that a trip for this very reason would be very fitting and quite enriching for me to attend. I received an email from the alumni mailer from Tel Aviv University, my former institution, asking for applicants to represent the Israel University Consortium (IUC) in the 32-member organization, the ICC.
The ICC is an organization that works to bring together different pro-Israel organizations with various political and religious motivations and perspectives. Though these organizations function very differently from one another, they all have a common goal of supporting the state of Israel, and we are the college/campus edge of that goal. My organization, the IUC, is neither politically nor religiously driven and my primary focus is to promote study abroad and other Israel and Middle East education programs. In my view, and this being the reason for my application, knowledge of Middle East and Israel issues is imperative to the functioning of any country on the world scale. They do and will always play an important role in the world’s politics, economy, and history and should not be neglected in the education of our nation.
After applying for this position I was faced with one major issue, which I was forced to reconcile before proceeding in this process. I am not Jewish. And, well, it’s a challenge, to say the least, to become so, nor do I want to do so. I was assured by my organization that this would be okay, as it was actually a main point in my application essay that this organization shouldn’t promote an idea that Israel is only for Jews nor that Jews are the only people that are supportive of Israel. No less, arriving to the Newark airport I quickly realized that I was the only one.

This was an exciting day for me. I have learned from this experience that I love to travel to new places, but that I love even more to travel to places I’ve been before. Old roads traveled mean something more. They have memories and experiences that can sometimes only be relived by stepping on that soil once again, taking in the same view, and breathing in the same breath of air that you once loved before. But old roads are still undiscovered and are available for making new memories and taking new steps. I was excited to return to Israel.

I did not make it custom to inform my 40 fellow students of my religious beliefs. The reason isn’t because I was afraid, as all throughout my first trip to Israel I was embraced and accepted regardless of my religious status. I withheld this from many because I didn’t want my religion to create a bias by the other students about my opinions. I also wanted to make a point that the Jews are a unique and special people, but in honesty, there is sometimes a sense of superiority among some Jewish people, so I wanted to integrate with them and be one of them for a time. No less, on the first day I chose to reveal this to two friends so that I could have a low level of dialogue about the trip in the perspective of mine, not one of a Jew, as I am not one. This was a great choice as I found it integral to discuss my unique perspectives on the trip with someone. I chose to tell more and more people throughout the trip as we grew closer, and at times, my opinions were very abnormal to the customary Jewish mindset. I also made repeated comments in group meetings that these ideas and perspectives shouldn’t just be for Jews. We do not need to convince Jews that Israel is a good place. It is the world that they want to see the good in the state of Israel, rather than complete dependence on slightly biased media attention to Gaza and the West Bank (and mostly negligence towards the actual undisputed State of Israel). By the end of our ten-day trip throughout Israel, most, if not the whole group, was aware of my non-Jewish upbringing, embraced me for it, was more curious about my opinions on the matters we were discussion, was more interested in my perspective on Israeli issues, and was overall very thankful to have a different voice among them. I had found success and acceptance and truly made the difference that I had hoped to. I was alienated by no one and hope I didn’t alienate any of them, and was able to speak for the non-Jewish community of people in the world who support Israel. This was humbling and ultimately very rewarding.
As for me, I learned a lot about myself as well. I went into this trip knowing that I support Israel, but not fully knowing why. I also learned about myself as a person.

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