My mother was born in Israel to Polish parents who narrowly escaped the Holocaust. For her family, Israel was a savior and she grew up wandering the streets of Tel Aviv with her sisters. Everyone was poor and shared with one another. After she left Israel in her 20’s, moving to Berkeley during the 1960’s hippie revolution of the 1960’s, she never moved back to her homeland of milk and honey, kibbutzim and orange groves, though we visited as a family every year. Her Israel was young and idealistic and could do no wrong and she strongly imprinted her vision of Israel on me as I was growing up.
I loved the warmth of the country and the familiarity of the smells and language. I attended summer camps in Israel with my many cousins and distant relatives, alongside other Israeli American children, whose parents longed for them to experience “real” Israel and not become completely American. But in the end, we always left. I was an American child, with television and Christmas and friends named Elizabeth and Stacy.
When I was 20 years old, my relationship with Israel changed. I studied in Tel Aviv during my junior year of college, which happened to coincide with the beginning of the Second Intifada. Two weeks after a wild night dancing with friends at the Club Dolphinarium on the Tayelet, a suicide bomber killed and maimed over 100 young Israelis waiting outside the club. It was an abrupt end to my perfect vision of Israel. Yet, Israelis continued to frequent the coffee shops and nightclubs, almost in defiance of the collective anguish of the country. I saw real perseverance and bravery.
I continue to go back to Israel for short trips, as often as I can. On one trip, I visited Hebron and toured the Jewish settlement located in the heart of the old city, where 800 Jews live in the middle of a city of 250,000 Palestinians. It was uncomfortable to witness a handful of zealous Jewish settlers create such hostilities with their Palestinian neighbors. Israel might be brave, but it was often wrong.
Most recently, I learned and studied for two weeks in Israel with the Wexner fellowship program, which opened my eyes to Arab-Israel relations, Israel’s relationship to Gaza and the West Bank, the ultraorthodox challenges to Israel’s democracy and Israel’s accomplishments in water conservation. I toured the desalination plant located in Askelon, and witnessed how 90% of Israel’s domestic fresh water is produced. I saw the incredible innovations Israel has made in water irrigation at Netafim, which in typical Israeli fashion is a multi-million dollar corporation located in a modest Moshav in the desert.
Israel’s constraints, both ecological and geographical, are what fosters the country’s innovation. I am constantly in awe of the young country – with its vibrant art scene, growing tech sector, breakthroughs in flight and aerospace technologies and its discoveries in medicine.
Israel remains my beloved home away from home, embracing me with open arms and falafel. Israel has many stories and truths. I acknowledge the shortcomings and achievements of Israel, and my relationship with Israel is not without challenges. Yet, it is a relationship I believe every Jew must have.
Our generation has never faced a world without Israel. I don’t know or understand the implications of such a world and I don’t take it for granted. Every young Jew must take the time to learn and develop a relationship, however complicated, with Israel.
Shira Weissman is General Counsel at Rabin Worldwide, where she negotiates transactions involving industrial equipment and real estate, and handles the legal and business affairs of the company. Prior to her long awaited return to her hometown, Shira practiced law at Baker & McKenzie in Chicago and taught second grade with Teach for America in the South Bronx.
Shira recently completed the two-year Wexner Heritage Program, where she revitalized her excitement for the vibrant Jewish life around her. When not closing a deal, Shira loves running on Mt. Tamalpais, skiing anything anywhere, and cooking Shabbat dinners with her family.