By Daniel Rotman, Career Israel, Toronto, Canada
My first images of Israel are from TV clips during the Intifada in 2001: Israeli gunships were shown hovering over modern day ruins. This was all I knew of the land that my parents had defended in their teens and left soon after for a different life in Canada. Then, after over 25 years in Canada, re-living old fears, they second guessed our upcoming family trip. Too young to realize the impact of my statement, I told them, “If we don’t go now, we will never go.”
Growing up in Toronto, Canada, and raised by secular Israeli Jews, my identity was something of an enigma. My family was not a part of any Jewish community nor Canadian community. It wasn’t until my years at York University that I began to seriously inquire as to whom I was. I felt a clash between Eastern and Western culture that I could not reconcile by joining the necessary student groups on campus. I decided that identity via birth or via proxy is not enough to compel personal ownership.
After completing university, to discover what it really meant to be Canadian, I moved to northern Canada. Experiencing the vast Canadian wilderness humbled me but the extreme cold made me crave warmer weather. In search of a place where I might feel a deeper connection, I decided to give Israel a chance and registered for the Masa Israel program called Career Israel, a five-month internship program for recent college graduates which features Hebrew language lessons and culturally significant trips throughout Israel. Based in Tel Aviv, I lived only 10 minutes from the beach.
I was completely unprepared for the intensity of life in Israel. From the moment the program started, the diversity and vigor of Israeli society was immediately evident. Upon meeting in Jerusalem, my fellow participants were animated with stories of verbose taxi drivers and pushy citizens. Once we arrived in Tel Aviv, we noted the staggering difference between the weekdays’ vibrant local market and Shabbat’s quiet streets. The danger that I believed would permeate daily life was entirely absent. On Tel Aviv’s 100th birthday, my celebration included donating blood for injured soldiers at a mobile clinic. Every Israeli celebration seemed to involve complex combinations of emotion and history.
This complexity was also evident in every one of Career Israel’s cultural trips. Topics such as Israel’s borders, the Bedouin population, the Kassam-struck city of Sderot, and even the design of the Supreme Court contained stories deeply rooted in cultural and political conflict. Even those who agreed on the solution to any particular conflict could not agree on how to implement it. Israel is home to many people and not one voice speaks louder than others, although all shout at the top of their lungs. With over a dozen political parties in power, Israel’s identity is in a constant state of flux. My internship with a Tel-Avivian photography studio provided me with yet more perspectives as I accompanied the artists to photograph all types of people from business owners to actors, and surfers to butchers. Identity, I learned, is not reached through any simple decision-making, but through enduring the trials of life that exists between the past and the future.
Amidst all the chaos that left no Jerusalem stone untouched, I was surprised to find myself discovering a sense of inner peace. This peace is not shown in the simple deceptive TV images from outside of Israel. Controversy and conflict—shown as negative in the world stage—gave me the opportunity to experience the richness of over 5700 years of my identity packaged in a beautiful landscape not longer than a five hour drive top to bottom.
When the program ended, I left Israel still not satiated but filled with desire and hope. Despite the world’s view on the small and maturing country, life in Israel is roaring forward with a deeply passionate pace—and that passion is a feeling that I am now proud to call my own.