It’s hard being the only practicing Jew in a school of 1,200. It’s hard missing school dances and sports games and rehearsals because they are always scheduled on Jewish holidays. It's hard spending every day with people who just don’t understand your religion isn't a joke.
I lost my Judaism.
Walking down the hallway sophomore year I could see diversity almost everywhere: different skin colors, different ages, different personalities, and a few different religions. Why in such a diverse place is it so hard for people to understand my religion and me?
As I was Skyping with my friends back home, someone asked if I felt "more Jewish now that I'm in Israel." I laughed. That's it. I just laughed and continued on to a new topic. That was the wrong response.
As far back as kindergarten, I knew something was different about me, something special. I didn’t fully understand why I sometimes missed school to go play with friends at temple, or why Santa and the Easter bunny never came to our house. I didn’t really understand Judaism. But I knew I loved it.
From the days when my friends and I picked our noses and took afternoon naps up to fifth grade we would spend weeks looking forward to the day my mom would come in to teach the class what Hanukkah is, arms full of dreidels to give out. This was a point when nobody understood religion, but we were also too young and naive to care. Free toys were free toys, and regardless of whether it was a dreidel or McDonald's Happy Meal toy, they were still things to play with and show off.
I lost my dedication.
Over the years my Judaism has given me so much that I've taken advantage of. Without fully realizing it, I’ve gained a sense of community, as well as support, connections, and diversity. I knew these, along with my Jewish roots, would all strengthen in Israel, so a year in advance I signed up for a two-month study abroad program in Israel. A year in advance I made the best decision for myself and my pride in my Jewish roots. AMHSI showed me how much support I have and how much community, connections and diversity there are in this beautiful country.
For the first time in a long time I’ve never been more loud and proud to be Jewish. It’s amazing to not have to lie to every hairdresser about how "good my Christmas was" for fear of embarrassing him. It’s amazing to not have dances and games and rehearsals always scheduled on Jewish holidays. Israel is just amazing.
I lost my pride.
It’s not that I feel more Jewish in Israel. My Jewishness hasn’t increased because I’m in a different part of the world, but my pride has. In Hod HaSharon I can walk down the street and see other people like me, other Jews. I see synagogues on every other corner and hear the language I spent years learning during Hebrew school. I hear my Hebrew name, Channah, and respond to it each and every time. In Israel, I feel pride again. I can't even describe how nice it is to live with new lifelong friends who understand the struggle of living in non-Jewish areas, how nice it is to feel accepted and be a majority. I like being the majority.
Why would I ever need to hide the fact that I’m a Jew in a place known as the "Jewish State"?
So no, I don’t feel more Jewish now that I’m in Israel, I just feel more accepted and proud.
Israel has become a home to me, and I can't imagine another place as magical as Israel and AMHSI. I am proudly Jewish, and will stay that way forever. I never want to leave Israel, but I know the magic will still be here when I return.
I found my Judaism.