My Egypt was ignorance and apathy. I hated the expectation that a place to which I’d never been was supposed to mean something to me. I didn’t understand why the modern state of Israel was supposed to matter to me, when my family likely hadn’t lived in the land for a millennium or more. History and archaeology, sure, but politics today seemed pretty far removed from any historic connection I may have, plus my schooling had me thoroughly convinced that religion and government should never mix. Surrounded by people with personal connections to Israel, I felt like a stranger, disconnected and distanced from the connections felt by those around me. Their expectations for my Zionism was a heavy burden for me to carry. Moreover, my ignorance made me afraid. I didn’t want to ask questions for fear of sounding stupid, didn’t know what questions to ask, and felt overwhelmed with all there was to learn. I also feared, once I had more knowledge and understanding, that others would view me poorly for my views – and that I would judge people I cared about for their own views. I was paralyzed, frozen in place, hoping that my silence would keep others’ attention off me.
My revelation at Sinai, therefore, consisted of moments when I felt both informed and invested in Israel – moments when Israel was mine too, when I could analyze a political situation or ask insightful questions. Sinai was also in moments of intense self-identity with other Israelis. When the sirens went off one Friday afternoon, and my friends and I huddled in the stairwell with our neighbors, listening intently to the radio and straining to hear the sounds of a far-off explosion. In these moments, Israel was mine – but they were fast and fleeting. Just as Sinai was never the ultimate destination in the children of Israel’s journey, so too my life went on.
So now, I’m wandering in the wilderness. I have memories of slavery and revelation. Neither was comfortable, and, unlike the wanderers in the desert, I don’t know what my promised land looks like. “Flowing with milk and honey” – what does that even mean for life today? Let my promised land flow with the curiosity and critical evaluation of the people who love it. Let the honey be the sweetness of open-mindedness and honest discussion. May my promised land be one of continuous revelation.
Nicole Berne is a third-year MAJE student at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles, CA. She graduated from Indiana University in 2011, majoring in English and history, and spent her first year of graduate school living and learning in Jerusalem. Looking ahead, Nicole is excited to explore opportunities for pursuing social justice through Jewish education both in classwork and through hands-on community engagement.