I'm a 21-year-old student at New York University majoring in journalism. I have blonde hair and blue eyes. I come from the average American family and look like the average American girl. So why am I leaving the land of opportunity to live, permanently, in a land ravaged by war?
A rabbi once told me that when God took Abraham to Canaan and showed him the land, promising it to Abraham's future generations, He also showed him every Jew that was ever to be born. The rabbi went on to explain that, according to the legend, when a Jew stands in the exact spot where thousands of years ago Abraham first beheld him, he becomes intimately and eternally bound to the land.
Like many Jews, I had been to this land, now called Israel, numerous times to see the holy sights and visit the home of my forefathers. And while I felt a connection and perhaps had the feeling of “coming home” that many Jews boast of, I never viewed the country as anything more than a place of religious and historical significance to visit every once in a while.
But two summers ago, when I visited Israel with my family, something was different. I suddenly felt a visceral need to identify with the people and the culture, and so I decided to spend a year abroad studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The only explanation, albeit fantastical, that I can offer is that perhaps that summer I stood in the very place where Abraham first regarded me, so many years ago, and my soul anchored itself in the sacred soil.
I was overcome with the realization that there was a country whose land had been promised to me, where millions of my people lived, yet their lives were so different from mine. I wanted to see that land and that life, learn about it, be part of it.
I quickly became part of life in Israel. I got used to having my bag checked every time I went into a store or restaurant, I got used to seeing my Israeli soldier friends walking around with huge M-16s on their shoulders. I mastered haggling with the taxi drivers. Taxis, not buses-that was the rule my parents, and many of my friends' parents, issued before we left. With all the suicide bombings on buses, it just isn't worth the risk. And though I don't travel on buses, I'll admit I still feel frightened walking by a bus, or sitting in a taxi at a red light with a bus in the next lane. It's just too hard to get the television images of blown-up buses out of my head.
Two weeks after I arrived, I was lucky enough to land an internship at the Jerusalem Post, which was an invaluable opportunity for me as a young journalist. There, I was thrown right into the thick of things, with no choice but to learn quickly. On my very first day, I wrote an article that appeared in the newspaper, and while it wasn't front-page news, it was my debut into the world of journalism.
Life is about adjusting, and I'm still struggling with the adjustment.
When I told my best friend that I was going to Israel for a year, she couldn't believe it. She couldn't understand why I was going to spend a year of my life in a country filled with angry extremists who would jump at the chance to kill me.
She was correct in that what we see on TV is scary-images of the burned frames of blown-up buses or cafes, the Israeli military in the slums of the Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria] and Gaza.
But the majority of the cafes in Israel are modern, popular places where Israelis spend their evenings or lunch breaks, and many Palestinians are not the suffering, impoverished people we see on TV. Many live in mansions in developed Arab villages.
I explained all of this to my friend as best I could, but I didn't say what I was really thinking: Honestly, how safe is it to live anywhere these days? Today, terrorism is a global threat. How many New Yorkers were scared to go to work at the World Trade Center on that Tuesday morning in September 2001? But today, everybody is wary, everywhere in the world. The point is that we still go on living. Not just existing, but actually living. We can't live life scared to go around every corner, or none of us would ever leave the house.
It's no different in Israel. Living means putting the fear behind you.
Yet while their survival requires Israelis to harden their hearts to the pain, to take a deep breath and push the grief out of their minds, doing so is slowly turning Israel into a very hardened country. I fear once I live there, I might harden with it; so while some may worry that I will lose my life, I worry more about losing my heart.
It is Israel's mostly futile effort to block out the pain of all the death that is causing them to lose the media war. The Palestinians bring the journalists and cameras into their homes, showcasing their anguish for the world.
Everyone can remember the last time they saw an Israeli bulldozer destroying a house, or an Israeli tank plowing through a Palestinian village. But rarely do we see the footage of the Israeli mothers, wives, and children crying for lost relatives. We hear the names of the dead, but rarely do we see the victims who remain maimed and crippled. They do exist, but Israel avoids revealing its vulnerable side.
So instead, Israelis appear tough and military.
Yet despite the terror, bombings, and deaths, there is a living side to the country, and that's the Israel I became a part of. And that's my answer to those who can't understand my decision to live in Israel, exactly what Israelis want the world to remember: People are actually living life there. It's not a third-world regime. It's not Afghanistan or Iraq. It's a modern democracy, just like the United States, trying to exterminate terrorism. The roads are paved, there are prestigious hospitals and universities, and they even have The GAP and IKEA.
But none of that makes news, so we don't see it-hence, the flabbergasted looks when I say that after spending a year in Israel, I'm moving there permanently this summer.
So while perhaps it was my religious beliefs that led me to explore the country in the first place, it was the country itself, the people, the culture, and the life, that kept me there.
Excerpted from an article that originally appeared on Foxnews.com Erica Chernofsky moved to Jerusalem permanently in the summer of 2004 and is a journalist at the Jerusalem Post.
Photo: www.israelimages.com & Sylvia Large
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