It’s like I’m staring down the barrel of something. Not a gun, that’s too dramatic, but something that you’d stare down in a moment of pure adrenaline and uncertainty and fear, if those things could ever go together.
I leave for Israel in four days. I can’t stop thinking about kashrut certificates on my El Al dinner plate, the awkwardly sized “Tzevet” name tag that I’ll be gifted with as a Birthright staffer, the impossibly long days, conversations that will feel dangerous and therefore desperately important. I want to be a better staffer this time, one with eyes wide open, amenable to the distractions that I know are really teachable moments.
I’m not the same Jew I was the last time I was in Israel, two years ago. I’m more skeptical that things in the region can change. I’m more cynical about Jewish communities and more radical in my politics. I’m less traditionally observant. I’m tired.
I hope I’m wrong in thinking that these brave folks about to travel with me are expecting a sanitized version of Israel- a place that is purely and simply anything. There are experiences like that, of course, moments where nothing else would be appropriate, and you have to let them exist. But I’m not too tired to be honest. I’m done existing in a space where people are too afraid to think, where we put the future of the Jewish community at risk in the name of being right (pun intended).
Something has survived, though, some part of me is clearly not done, or I couldn’t bring myself to take on this adventure that will be sleepless, frustrating, and ultimately an exercise in willing suspension of disbelief. Birthright works, according to research, as in, it connects young Jews to each other and to their identities, but what does that mean? Is connection the same thing as being able to criticize and push, as saying you believe we can do better? It takes much more than ten days to do that. If we’re lucky, it might take less than a lifetime.