‘Israel will always be an important piece of my Jewish identity'

August 17, 2011

By Rosa Stall, Jewish Tribune
A number of young people from around the world, including Canada, spent time in Israel on Masa Israel programs. This is the third in a series of stories as told by some of the Canadian participants.
“Why would you ever choose Jerusalem over Tel Aviv?” a representative asked me at McGill’s meeting for students studying abroad at Israeli universities. At the time, I had no response. I had never even considered Tel Aviv University
The representative proceeded to tell me how much more fun Tel Aviv was than Jerusalem, and how it was a “city that never sleeps, a city where the party never ends.” But, after being here in Israel for five months, I know that when I am in Tel Aviv I can forget I am in Israel; but when I am in Jerusalem, I never forget where I am.
My experiences studying at Masa Israel’s program at Hebrew University and living in Jerusalem have both confused and solidified my Jewish identity.
The first time I came to Israel with my family in 2004, I landed in Ben Gurion Airport, expecting to feel something, but I did not. Israel is a beautiful country, but to my 13-year-old self it was no more special to me than any other place I had visited. 
This past January I arrived in Jerusalem, a city where I have spent very little time in the past. For the first few weeks, I felt complete culture shock. Being a Jew from Toronto I could not help but feel out of place in the sea of Orthodoxy that can encapsulate Jerusalem.  Yet as the weeks passed, I started to really enjoy living in Jerusalem. As a Canadian who loves waiting in lines and appreciates order, I soon became accustomed to the bustling shuk and the benefits of chaos. Yet, even though I experienced a greater appreciation for the country, I still did not feel more connected to my Jewish identity...