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Relationship Status: It's Complicated

Relationship Status: It's Complicated

Birthright participants hiking in Israel

It is February so let’s talk about love.

What is love? How do you define a relationship? Do you call her nicknames like “The Homeland” or “Zion” or maybe even “ha’aretz (the land)?”

Do you send presents to her family and come visit for the holidays? What does she do to make you feel closer? Engaged? Mostly, how do you do all this when the object of your affection isn’t even a person but a country?

In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't always been the biggest Zionist, but Zionism is a big word. Realistically, I would say I didn’t always love or appreciate Israel as I do today.

Let me tell you, though, about the first time I fell in love with Israel.

It happened when I was considering my options in the IDF. I wanted to be a combat soldier, but not because I wanted to protect this land, not because of all the people who had done it before me, and not because people had died – died for the love of Israel – so that I could live in this place.

No, I did it because I wanted to test my boundaries, both physically and mentally. And indeed, I did. As a combat soldier, I got to know myself better, and at the same time, I got to know and love Israel.

Sure, long distance relationships are great for those who can handle them, but eventually you need the physical contact. You need to be there – to walk the land, feel it beneath your feet, touch the Wall, see the spectacular views, smell the spices – just like you would hold hands, kiss, touch, and hug your loved ones.

As a combat soldier, I got to know Israel in the best possible way – by foot. I walked the land by day and by night. I fell asleep on the ground – with my pack and all my gear still on. Through cold rain and hot desert sun, I saw Israel in her full beauty, finally connecting to the land, the stories, and the people.

Only then did I understand why people went to Israel, and stood up for what they believed. As I stood on the land where so much had happened, where so many souls had fought so I could be there, who was I to decry their bravery and their determination? Indeed, I want to fight, too, so that my future children will have the same privileges I had. More than that, I want to know I’vet done everything possible to ensure that my family can continue to live in Israel.

The second time I fell in love with Israel was this past December, when I led a URJ Kesher Birthright trip. Watching Jewish young adults from 18- to 26-years-old experience Israel – some for the first time – was incredible. As I watched them find their own connection to the people, the food, the land, the Hebrew language, and the stories, I got to see it and appreciate it all over again for myself.

Like I said, loving Israel is complicated.

In some ways, my relationship with Israel is like the one I have with my siblings. I love them, but God knows, sometimes we face disagreements and get on each other’s nerves. It’s the same way in a romantic relationship. Even if we differ in our political views, culture, history, and customs, we must find common ground if we are to share a life together.

As an Israeli, sometimes I take the country for granted. After all, I’ve lived there my entire life, performing Jewish customs and rituals without ever stopping to question or understand why I do them or what makes the connections I’ve developed with Israel so unique.

So ask yourself where is the love? And, how can I find it with Israel?

In my opinion, there’s no better way than jumping deep into the water, climbing to the top of a mountain peak, and feeling the sand between your toes. Take advantage of the many Israel programs available through the URJ and other organizations so you, too, can fall in love with Israel.

Hopefully, it will be another story of love at first touch!

Omer Gady is the Israeli shaliach (emissary) at Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach, FL.

Omer Gady
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