Today, I felt a connection. A bond between a deep part of myself and the Jews and non-Jews who have sacrificed themselves for the freedom of a Jewish land. Today, I finally understand what the land of Israel means. Israel is a people, a land, and an identity. In English, “Israel” translates to “struggle with G-d.” This name couldn’t be more perfect. On top of Mt. Herzl, I listened to and reflected upon three heartbreaking stories of amazing people who selflessly sacrificed their lives defending Israel – people who would have accomplished so much had their lives not been cut short. In this land, Judaism is celebrated instead of looked down upon, due to brave soldiers not far from my own age. It is important not to forget that these soldiers are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and fathers and mothers. Because of Israel’s unique situation, Israelis are one big family fighting and sacrificing themselves for freedom.
Walking through the Mt. Herzl cemetery evoked so many emotions in me – the kind of feeling that stays in your chest and throat. I already know that I will return to this land to feel a connection once again, to remember the struggle with G-d that has amounted to gaining and keeping a Jewish land. My Jewish identity has changed at its core. Before coming here, I had no real connection to Judaism. I did not understand what being a Jew meant. Now, after experiencing the culture and learning the history of this land, I feel like I belong, like I am part of the people and part of the land.
Israel is a powerful place with a rich history. As Jews, we are extremely fortunate to have our own land populated by people who will protect it at any cost. When I leave in 10 days, I will take home a new Jewish identity in the hopes of one day returning to this Holy Land.