Without Israel, Where Else?
Israel’s existence is important to me because if not Israel, where else? We were told that we could settle in East Africa, but why there? So we could be settlers once again, outside our national homeland? Israel is necessary for Jews like me in order to feel safe and to have a home. Israel has to be an independent nation to have an established army, but people may ask why this is important.
The never-ending antisemitism that continues to change forms and permeate the lives of Jews is still going strong, unfortunately. What happens if this popular trend continues to grow in support and public expression? Are we so sure that something similar to the effort to destroy Jewish lives and the Jewish spirit as during the Holocaust could never happens again?
I've been told time and time again that it is a crazy notion to even express. But how can we be so naive to believe that this ancient hatred that rears its ugly head in every generation will not transform itself against while seeing hatred of Jews grow all over the world today? At least I know that if something similar does happen again, I will have Israel and the IDF to help keep me safe as it does for Jews in the state of Israel or anywhere in the world..
I was 16 when I first came to Israel with NFTY and I had a great time visiting multiple tourist sites and areas that are eye catching, but I did not understand why this place was considered my homeland. During my freshman year of college, I began teaching at a Hebrew School called Talmud Torah and was introduced to Natalie who ran a club called Ducks For Israel with her boyfriend Joel. Somehow I got sucked into being the secretary/treasurer of the club, something I never really saw myself doing. I soon found that although many students said they support Israel and our club, very few students took initiative to help us run programs, campaigns and educate others, especially Jewish youth. They call themselves Zionist, but how willing were they to proclaim these beliefs in public? The truth was maybe 1 in 20.
After being behind the scenes of the club for a year and a half, Natalie asked me to be the President of the club. And I thought to myself, “Why me? I don't like to be in the forefront, why doesn't one of the more outspoken students take this position?” That's when I realized they didn't have the same empathy and the same passion for Israel. To them, running the club was something they could put on their resume, not a cause to fight for.
The one time that I felt fully connected to combating antisemitism was when the BDS resolution passed on my campus. The SJC argued for hours that BDS was not antisemtic but a voice for Palestinian students. I thought to myself, “How can you boycott the Jewish State’s exports and not call it antisemtic?” That's when I began my research into the antisemitism that backs BDS. If you look into the founders of the movement they blatantly have quotes saying Israel should not be a state and much more graphic words describing what I consider a home away from home.
Despite almost 200 Jewish students speaking on behalf of BDS, compared to the few members of SJC, my school’s government still allowed BDS to pass. Our community felt defeated after pouring hours into writing speeches, prepping speakers, and working with Hillel to come up with a solid game plan, but that is not what even hit us the hardest. The week after BDS was passed on my campus, our Hillel board was defaced. The words, “F**k Jews, Free Palestine” was written in bold letters. After all the genocide and displacements my people have gone through, the thought that we shouldn't have a homeland was still prevalent.
I started to learn how important it was to be an advocate for the Jewish voice on my campus. 90% of people on campus do not have a strong opinion on Israel but when SJC shows pictures of IDF soldiers shooting a Palestinian with his back turned, it automatically creates a false story, which then turns into antisemitism. The false portrayal of Israel comes from many outlets, created by old pictures, false captions, and one post that spreads like wildfire. I began to wonder how could they get away with this. I came to the conclusion that it was the lack of a centralized effort by the Jewish world as it relates to hasbara for Israel. Not only are there a million different views just in Israel about how the conflict should be settled, but also the limited ability Israel has to defend against the outside world.
To combat every negative post would be impossible, especially because IDF spokespeople have barriers and limits to what they can disclose. We can stand at the apartheid walls placed on campus combating every lie that is written, but will people believe us? The likelihood is no.
I learned to educate myself on the history of Israel, and I still have a vast amount of information that I need to learn. But now when people say that Israel has sovereignty the West Bank and Gaza, I have learned to remind them of the disengagement of 2005 when Israel left Gaza, and that the last country to have sovereignty in Judea and Samaria was Jordan, won back by Israel in the war of 1967. Israel has every right to declare sovereignty over the region, but the debate continues in Israel's continued pursuit of peace. I learned to combat the lies with the historical facts, but it still does not seem to be enough. I am still learning to combat antisemitism in proactive way and make people understand the truth.
Despite Israel being important for combating antisemitism and giving Jews a physical place to reside in, I connect to it on a spiritual level. I have often heard people say they feel more connected to Israel than where they grew up, and that truly resonates with me. After all my education about Israel and Judaism, I attended Birthright this summer, surrounded by many American Jews, yet I still did not have this connection with the people or the land.
Maybe it was because the type of people or the fact that many of them did not even know what Shabbat was, after feeling defeated and upset that I had to spend two more months in a place where the people did not fit me and I sweat more than ever before. I went into my apartment of J-Internship with people not just from LA but from all over the country, people with different backgrounds but all with the knowledge of what Shabbat is.
We went to the Western Wall together for our first Shabbat in Israel and lit candles. Both experiences that I have had many times before, but had never felt connected in the same way. I was shocked about the tears that started to fill my eyes and was curious about why I felt this way. I came to the conclusion that it was because I was surrounded in this beautiful place that brought all these amazing people who were passionate about Israel and learning about their Judaism to come together and be as one.
I'm not going to be cheesy and say Israel is my home, because I grew up in a suburb of the East Bay in California in a typical cookie cutter house, but I will say I felt more at home with myself in Israel than I ever have in the comforts of my suburban home in California.
Shayna Barrall is studying communication at the University of Oregon. After spending the summer in Israel her love for Israel has grown and she hopes to return in the future.