By Adina Karpuj Bortz
Life was hard 12 months ago. Standing on my toes atop a red-clay hill in Clayton, I waved my arm around, frantically searching for enough 3G to communicate with the universe outside bonfires and Birkat Hamazon (the grace after meals).
Amid the slopes of the North Georgia mountains, the war was nowhere and everywhere. Thousands of miles from peulot tzrif (bunk activities), yom doar (letter-writing day) and harga’ot (bedtime stories), the news from a place I’ve always dreamed of calling home suffocated my every unattended thought and douses me in longing.
“Longing?” you might ask. “Longing for violence, bomb shelters, fear?”
No, I’m not a military junkie who feeds off car explosions or land mines. In fact, the first and only time I held a gun, I recoiled from discomfort. And yet my heart ached to be there, in the middle of terror, hoping to make it through the night.
As I entered the mercaz (the staff work room at Camp Ramah Darom) last summer, I watched countless Israeli staff members in despair. Calls home, news articles, YouTube videos and physical distance — each detail made being so far that much harder.
As a Diaspora Zionist, I felt a unique sense of anguish: On one hand, my own distance from Israel was unquestionable, as I had never lived in the country and could not identify myself as someone who had experienced the real Israel. Simultaneously, years of reading online Israeli newspapers at the breakfast table and listening to Shlomo Artzi and Idan Raichel as my “most frequently played” artists made my constant thoughts of Israel a given; while my physical home was in no imminent danger, my cultural home was fighting for its life.
In a 21st-century world where gratification is just as instant as pain, the repercussions of one attack are no longer felt only on the ground. The implications of loving a country whose neighbors don’t feel the same way extend far beyond its physical borders and into the airwaves that thread our virtual world.
The days of crouching by the radio for hours anticipating panic or waiting several weeks to receive a family member’s account of tragedy have long been replaced by the instantaneous buzz of a cellphone; technology has grown to shrink our world. Consequently, the experience that my grandparents and parents had growing up as Diaspora Zionists has also changed.
With real-time knowledge of current events, I have come to find that I feel both closer and further from the home I long for. In the struggle to identify that much more with the Israelis who live my dream as a reality, the thousands of miles separating my heart-of-suburbia home from the hipster Nahlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem seem to spread wider.
And then came Red Alert.
While I had some reservations about downloading an iPhone application that would sound every time a rocket went off in a country thousands of miles away, I decided it would enable me to feel closer to Israel, even if by only an inch.
As the summer days grew in number, so too did the sirens, and consequently the endless buzzing. One rocket after another was fired from Gaza and landed in the back pocket of my tattered jeans. The more rockets Hamas launched, the lower my phone battery plummeted.
No, there is absolutely no comparison between being in real, imminent danger and having your iPhone die a few times per day. There is no comparison between running to the nearest bomb shelter and reading the latest painful article detailing casualties. And yet the opportunity of having something in my own microcosm of everyday life mirror that of a macrocosmic Israel made me constantly aware that my own family, literally and figuratively, was suffering.
For me, my 18-year experience as a Diaspora Zionist was a distinct mixture of a sense of belonging and a desire for integration, an amalgamation of cultural comfort and undying controversy. The tearing I felt at every account of an attack on the Jerusalem light rail or a Tel Aviv bus stop was matched only by my inescapable desire to be in the heat of the conflict, at the heart of the nation.
And so I made a decision.
Twelve months after having downloaded the Red Alert App, I find myself downloading Dreamdays, a countdown application. Thirty-four days, it reads. Thirty-four days to say goodbye to my favorite parks and coffee shops, my high school friends and my dog. Thirty-four days until I board a flight unlike any other I will take in my life: my aliyah flight.
After spending a year living in the center of Jerusalem as a participant of Kivunim, a gap-year program, I’ve decided to fulfill my dream at the ripe old age of 19.
Having experienced the land firsthand, having invited it to awaken my senses, I became infatuated by its people and its pace and challenged by its contentions and clashes. I came to know what the grave ramifications of the conflict look like while also volunteering at organizations where I cared for Syrian, Kurdish and Iraqi children with congenital heart defects.
I had other options. I could have attended my top-choice university here in the United States. I could have remained in the comfort of suburban American life. And yet I came to the conclusion that I wanted my longing to be over; I wanted to contribute to this unprecedented moment in the history of the Jewish people.
While I am a strong proponent of the belief that moving to Israel is not for everyone, being part of the Red Alert groupies or loading a Hebrew newspaper on my laptop each morning is no longer sufficient for me. I’ve decided to take the next step.
As my aliyah and army enlistment dates approach, I await the exciting and difficult times ahead with a sense of premature fulfillment and unwavering decisiveness. I know life will be complicated. I know decisions will be tough, and the everyday struggle of living in a country whose grueling economic and religious issues are often put aside for the sake of security will leave me ambivalent about making this decision time and time again.
But I welcome these conflicts with open arms. Coming from a line of women whose dreams of establishing permanent residence in Israel have yet to be fulfilled, I am proud to be cutting my Diaspora ties loose with the realization of my dream and the contribution of my service.
Until the sounds of the sirens diminish, let me feel them with my whole being rather than through a muted buzz in my tattered pocket.
Adina Karpuj Bortz, the daughter of Congregation Or Hadash Rabbis Analia Bortz and Mario Karpuj, is an alumna of the Epstein and Weber schools and is making aliyah in August.