A little more than a year ago, I chose a Masa program that would give me the possibility to do an internship relevant for my medical residency in public health, and which contained an educational component that would allow me to finally learn about Israel. Let me explain: I started the Israel Government Fellows program in a state of complete ignorance. I had no knowledge about Zionism, had never heard of the debate over Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state, didn’t know what the Knesset was and my knowledge about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict came mostly from the French media and from what I had heard in the Jewish community of Bordeaux, which I was a part of for six months. I knew that my knowledge was distorted and probably wrong, but had no other narrative to counter it. I also didn’t have the time or energy to read about it.
On the program I expected to learn historical facts and general knowledge about political issues concerning Israel, the geopolitics of the region, the conflict and a bit of Jewish culture. My hope was that it would enable me to present a solid case whenever I would be faced again with the same arguments I hear whenever I mention Israel to people around me: the creation of a state based on religion is fundamentally wrong and should not have been allowed, the Israelis have created a vicious cycle of violence for which they are responsible, Israel unlawfully attacks and destroys an underdeveloped Palestinian territory, whose striving inhabitants are incapable of defending themselves.
What I got went far beyond my expectations. Not that I didn’t expect to stumble into some of the complexities of the issues, quite the opposite, but the learning didn’t happen exactly how I thought it would. Instead of being a good didactic student, memorizing facts and ideas and putting them together nicely like I was always taught to do, I was hit by the wave of the different narratives that our speakers offered us. Very powerful, emotional narratives that simply knock your socks off and make you reconsider everything all over again.
On the program we've heard from university professors, journalists, members of Knesset, directors of think tanks, NGOs and community activists. They've been secular, religious, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. They share their unique perspective, which you mostly agree with, or at least empathize with. Except that all the narratives contradict each other. It seems that the usual methodological way I organize my thoughts is not applicable in the Holy Land.
At first you can be tempted to resist, choosing not to believe the numbers that you are being given, or some of the stories that you hear. But after a few weeks it becomes impossible to take refuge in that tactic. What you are left with is the narrative of the speaker and yourself. And you have no choice but to dive into that area of grey that you already know you are never going to get out of. Which is so exciting, but also so scary. Israel is the place for me to go beyond my fear of this grey area and to accept the challenge of thinking differently and opening my mind. It is something I feel I was prevented from doing in my native country most of my life. That is why despite all the apparent comfort and the future that I could have in France, I left it behind without any regret. Here I can finally stop expending energy on hiding what I think (or that I am thinking), so that I will not cross my superiors, and start setting my mind free.
Here I am slowly letting go of all that mental conditioning and of my wish to live in the reassuring “good guy-bad guy” world that my society sold me. I try to understand what people are so scared of that they need to blind themselves and become so hypocritical but I am not sure yet. All I can say is that they have become terrified of confrontation to the point that they would rather lose their dignity than speak their mind. It is sad and I used to see it every day before I came here. In a society working under those conditions, I think there is little potential for debate or change.
Often Israelis apologize about the balagan, how loud they are and how much they complain. I tell them I like it: I like that they are not focused on managing everyone’s ego all the time, I like that they are loud and yell at each other and are not afraid of taking a stance, instead of staying silent and holding a grudge. Messy is healthy.
Israel is helping me to grow and become a better person. It has so much to offer me, and other Jews from Diaspora. I also believe we have a lot to contribute to Israel. I can’t wait to explore that side of things when my program ends…