Where I visit once a year even though I have no family there. Where I found myself. Where I went from being Jew(ish) to a proud Jew. Where those around me share a similar family past of pogroms, emigrations, anti-Semitism, and perseverance.
Where I ate my first Bamba and learned the word “sababa”. Where I am treated as a younger sister by all, for better or for worse. Where I am welcomed into a new home every Shabbat. Where a former ambassador modestly asked me personally for PR advice.
Where my Ethiopian friend’s family came first to seek refuge and now thrive as true Israelis. Where the red alert was called “shachar adom” (red dawn) until a seven-year-old child named Shahar came home crying to her mother because she heard her own name being used as a warning of an impending terrorist attack. Where we don’t think twice before revealing the intimate insides of our purses when entering malls. Where my friends spent an entire day trying to send food to hungry soldiers on the front lines. Where hopeful politicians meet to advance the peace process. Where if an alien landed on earth and read a newspaper, they could easily assume that this country is larger than the African continent. Where it takes fewer than six hours to drive from the very top of the country to the very bottom.
Where I ran to the bomb shelter every time I heard sirens wail. Where children sing when the air raid siren goes off so they do not hear the boom of the explosion. Where the sound of ambulance sirens was changed so people could differentiate between the two emergencies. Where I heard fireworks and worried they were rockets falling. Where even in a state of war, life goes on because it has to.
Where over 30,000 people gather at a funeral of a soldier they never met. Where over 350 Israelis in one day visited the family of a murdered Palestinian teen to pay their condolences. Where a country channeled frustration into positive actions as they visited injured soldiers in hospital beds. Where a song created by terrorist intended to demoralize Israelis became the ironic hit of the summer. Where my friends had to go to two of their friends’ funerals in one day.
Where eighteen year-olds serve in the army and go back to school only once they know the meaning of risking their lives for their country. Where ex-pats sacrifice their financial desires for their ideological needs.
Where meals begin with many salads and end with hot tea with spearmint. Where the rarity of bacon in the home is not only a religious, but also a traditional norm. Where Hebrew unites the atheists and religious alike. Where wine overflows the cup at the Shabbat table. Where the slippery Jerusalem stone beneath my feet reminds me of those who have walked in the Old City before me.
Where teenagers stay out until sunrise because their parents have bigger things to worry about. Where the non-existence of lines reflects an attitude of togetherness more than an attitude of individual survival. Where an assertive woman will preach her political views to the whole train. Where the history of the family’s hummus recipe can begin a heated political discussion of cultural appropriation. Where you understand the feeling of words like mamash, stam, and davka, but cannot translate them into definitive English words.
Where the record stands for the highest number of solar-powered water heaters, scientists, and engineers per capita. Where gay individuals are not condemned, but celebrated. Where seven year olds are trusted to lead their five-year-old brothers and sisters on the busses. Where the whole bus looks after these children as if they were their parents. Where one walks alongside an Armenian priest as the Muslim call to prayer fills the streets of the Old City. Where the shopkeepers in the markets can bargain in ten languages each. Where baby steps are made to move from tolerance to acceptance, and finally to understanding. Where I refuse to give up on the two-state solution even if it is on life-support.
This article was written based on Natalie Portman’s “Israel Is” excerpt from Alan Dershowitz’s book, “What Israel Means to Me”.
Eliana Rudee is a contributor to the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied International Relations and Jewish Studies. Follow her @ellierudee.