In the words of my esteemed Rabbis and outstanding teachers: this is the year to “nurture my neshama” (my soul), “develop my midot” (my character traits), and “connect to Hashem”. Each day from 9:00 in the morning to 9:00 at night I travel from classroom to classroom, collecting information on how exactly to do that and grow more aware of why it’s so valuable. After this year, I will attend a secular college and I am aware that the focus of my education will change drastically. No longer will I be in an environment that focuses on character development and religious growth.
However, I think there may be a bigger challenge ahead on campus. I expect that next year I will no longer be surrounded by people who view Israel’s right to exist as a given. In order to properly defend myself and my country next year in college, I have joined an Israel advocacy fellowship through Jerusalem University called Core18. This past weekend we began our long journey of education on this topic by, ironically, coming to terms with the reality that we may never fully understand these issues. The complexity of the layers, viewpoints, and history have left even the most brilliant minds and dedicated leaders without a viable solution. We were exposed to this concept by first being briefed on the Palestinian perspective and realizing that both sides of the story are valid in the way they emotionally affect their people. Having empathy for the people on both sides makes it difficult to separate the issues. Finding a solution, or even a compromise, under these circumstances is nearly impossible.
We continued the Core18 education with a discussion lead by an IDF commander who gave us deeper insight into the practices and principles of Israel’s army. I think Israel may be the only country in the world that infuses its morals into its army practices, for example: Dropping leaflet warnings from airplanes to civilians before attacks; using harmless weaponry as a warning tactic to avoid casualties in lower threat situations; and even a respectful tone of voice is expected of Israeli soldiers when evacuating Arab and Palestinian homes and when conducting raids. Developing an awareness of these extreme and unique sensitivities gave me tools to argue facts against anyone who claims that the IDF is an inhumane force. During this weekend-long seminar, I gained a lot valuable skills and knowledge, even though I was just scraping the surface of my education on this topic.
The impending danger and complexity of these issues quickly came to life with Donald Trump’s recent proclamation of formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This news has outraged Palestinians and provoked “three days of rage” where terrorism is expected to threaten Jerusalem until this Friday at the earliest. For many years, I have read headlines and scanned tweets of the frequent terrorism and constant threat that Israel battles. For better or for worse I have always moved on with my day without being deeply affected. In some twisted, amazing way for the first time I feel like a Jew doing my part, taking one for the team, as my daily life is now facing consequences of Israel’s conflicts that were once only a momentary blip on my phone screen from America.
Because of real threats to my safety, I️ will opt out of taking public transportation to the gym tomorrow, I️ will have to cancel lunch plans on Ben-Yehuda street with my friends, and a feeling of discomfort will likely dominate my usual leisure as I️ go about my day. Many of my friends who attend schools in the Old City have already been put on lockdown, and most girls in my seminary have cancelled their Shabbat plans and are now staying in the dorms in immense, and legitimate, fear of traveling. While I am of course afraid, I️ am highly appreciative of the opportunity to deepen my sensitivity and liven the issues that I️ have only learned about in power points and text books.
At the beginning of the week I️ joined an Israel advocacy program to learn more about the issues that Israel faces. By the end of the week I️ realized I️ joined an Israel advocacy program to learn more about the issues I️ myself will continue to face living life like a Jewish Israeli in this country.
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Sydni Burg is a 2017 graduate of Solon High School. She is spending this year studying in Jerusalem in a seminary called Midreshet Moriah. There, she takes religious classes on all topics, books, concepts and laws of Judaism.