A deeper and more tangible connection

8 Dec

by Elana Goldenkoff

Machane Yehudah

Machane Yehudah on Friday afternoon – Jerusalem preparing for Shabbat

I leaned against stone that had been hewn 2700 years ago. We had just exited Hezekiah’s Tunnel and I was awed at how in the eighth century BCE, with such limited technology, the ancient Judahites bore through more than 500 meters of solid rock to bring water into their city. In a room that some archaeologists believe to be the royal palace of the City of David, my classmates and I softly began singing “Hallelujah.” That moment, I knew I was home.

During my high school sophomore year I spent four months away from my family living and studying near the stone archways and packed marketplaces of Jerusalem. My friends and I bargained in Hebrew for exotic spices and fresh breads wrapped in day-old Arabic newspapers. We navigated the complex transit system to get back to campus before the city shut down for Shabbat. We even joined 10,000 other Jews walking to the Kotel before sunrise after having stayed up all night learning at Tikkun Leil Shavuot. I fell in love with the culture of this diverse city that has both a storied past and a hopeful future.

Israel had always been like that for me. Attending Jewish day school, Jewish camps, and a Conservative synagogue, I learned of Israel’s short but rich history, its agricultural, scientific and technological advances, and its progressive social policies. I learned that David and Goliath, the story of the weak underdog who courageously defeated a stronger oppressor, was symbolic of the nation of Israel itself.

But that day, near Hezekiah’s Tunnel in an ancient corner of Jerusalem, I heard another story: that of David and Bathsheva. David slept with a married woman, who fell pregnant. He then essentially murdered her husband by sending him to the frontline to be killed in a royal cover-up. Even though clever Halachic reasoning might explain away his crime, suddenly, my image of the man whose story had always seemed to embody the State of Israel itself was altered and I began to reexamine my idealistic perception of the country.

During my semester in Israel, I discussed the Middle East conflict with dozens of people from various backgrounds. I met Israeli soldiers who recounted their firsthand experience fighting militants and religious Jews who fervently believe in a Biblical connection to the land and want a unified Israel regardless of the cost. I listened to Israeli-Palestinian teenagers who feel like second-class citizens whenever they leave their predominantly Muslim towns, a man whose home was destroyed from bombings during the Second Lebanon War and peace activists who advocate for a two-state solution and their vision of true democracy.

That spring, I had become fully immersed in the totality of Israel and learned to grasp the pulse and the power, as well as the pain, of the country.  As I became aware of the fractures and faults within the nation I had been taught to love, I began to reshape and develop my own understanding of Israel. I no longer saw Israel through rose-colored glasses and I struggled to comprehend Israel’s reality of imperfection.  However, for me, this reexamination created a deeper and more tangible connection, one that permits me to challenge existing beliefs and, at the same time, to continue to love Israel. In a larger sense, this personal process of self-examination and opening myself up to exploring new ideas is what I value most about my experience in Israel. The imprint of this experience will have a lasting impact on my life.

Elana Goldenkoff participated in a high-school semester abroad program in Israel in 2012.


2 Responses to “A deeper and more tangible connection”

  1. Kaustav Chakrabarti December 11, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

    Israel is a country, ancient in time, but new to the world as a nation, and which evokes multiple perceptions. It is because of the intrinsically democratic nature of the country and the visions of the people who made it. Their reflections and those of ours tend to coincide and at the same time clash, because of what we are as humans. The Jewish people had thrown a challenge to history and the world at large by staying alive, and ever thriving and prospering under adverse circumstances. A country and its people, unique by standards of time and history. Mazal Tov!
    Dr. Kaustav Chakrabarti
    Asst. Professor of History
    Fakir Chand College

  2. redcowpress December 17, 2013 at 11:04 am #

    The Torah always challenges us. It doesn’t sugar coat the stories, sometimes it even amplifies the parts most people would prefer to sweep under the carpet. So to speak. You know what we mean?

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