Sara Lynch, a REALITY 2012 participant and current REALITY Check Fellow, will be working as an English Teaching Assistant at a university in Medellin, Colombia. She recently used a REALITY MakeItHappen grant to attend the 2013 Israeli Presidential Conference. She shares her reflections.
I arrived in Tel Aviv feeling very conflicted. I was proud of my students’ accomplishments in Nashville, and I was sad to leave my school and my neighborhood. I had set down strong roots in Tennessee, and I felt that I was leaving behind a very happy lifestyle and established community. Before going to Israel, I spent two days back in my hometown of New York, which was tough. I felt isolated in the big city where everyone was working and busy, and I was very unbusy and, frankly, bored.
The day before I flew to Tel Aviv I tried to comfort myself by writing a Stevie Nicks quote in my journal: “I don’t feel alone. I feel very unalone. I feel very sparkly and excited about everything.” While I didn’t share those sentiments at the time, I knew what I needed to feel excited about the next chapter in my life. I needed a sense of connection to community. I needed to make new friends. I needed intellectual growth. Ultimately, I wanted proof that I could navigate foreign places on my own. I’ll be moving to Medellin, Colombia, in a month and having this proof would provide a much needed confidence boost. I thought spending time in Israel could help. So what did I find?
First, I found community. For my second and last Shabbat in Israel, my friend took me to Kibbutz Tirat Zevi in Beit She’an. I met lone soldier officers coming back to the kibbutz after three long weeks in the army. I learned about the history of the kibbutz and the development of this tight-knit community. I listened to Hebrew. A lot of Hebrew. We prayed and sang. We talked about family, love, the difficulties of being in the army and the daily operations of the kibbutz. I turned off my phone and slept all day. In my time spent on the kibbutz, I found that I have a deep respect for people who live observant and religious lives. I admire the ways that community and tradition give people and families on the kibbutz a sense of power and meaning.
Second, I made great friends. My last night in Israel, a REALITY friend and I stumbled upon a great bar (The Lion’s Den or “Hagov”). We quickly befriended the bartender who generously tolerated our broken Hebrew and shared in our conversation (and drinking). As if we were old friends, we stayed with him the whole night, playing music, closing up the bar and sharing late night food in one of Jerusalem’s only 24-hour restaurants. By the time we left the restaurant, the sun was up and it was the day of my departure. Coincidentally, my new friend, Itay, is planning to travel to Colombia in the first few months of my stay.
Lastly, I expanded my personal theory of change through conversations I had at the Israeli Presidential Conference. I believe that change happens when people experience both a change of heart and a change of mind. For this reason, I was happy to take part in the intellectual debates at the conference, but I was even more pleased to experience and share in the passionate and emotional discussions about topics affecting people’s daily lives: security, spirituality, love, relationships, parenthood, history and the future.
In one of the opening speeches, former President Bill Clinton explained that if we truly want tikkun olam (to repair the world), we must expand our understanding of who belongs with “us” and shrink our notions of who constitutes “them.” In order to do this, we need to truly understand one another’s experiences. Sometimes, especially for Jews, we find that the best way to do this is through questioning and argumentation. At a session entitled Women and Judaism, women and men from orthodox, reform and secular circles in Israel argued over what it would take to make women equal in society while maintaining the religious traditions of Judaism. It is rare but important for leaders from such different walks of life to have a space to discuss these topics. I was happy to hear each member of the panel promise to continue the conversation outside of the conference.
I walked away from the experience with a promise to build community when I move to Colombia. I am sure I will spend a lot of time observing, but I also want to be accepting of others and feel accepted in turn. At the very least, I am confident that I will not be alone. As the four-week count down for my international move begins, I am starting to feel, well, sparkly.