This piece was originally posted on ARZA's website.
On November 2, 2022, I landed at Ben Gurion Airport for the first time. Filled with many emotions, this being my first trip to Israel, I decided to keep an open mind as I joined twelve young adult leaders on a journey to learn more about Israel, Zionism, and why Jews in the Diaspora, especially in the United States, should be engaged.
Through the Just Zionism trip, I was able to meet and learn from so many different people who are fighting for peace in Israel and Palestine while also fighting for greater understanding and unity. We met with members of the Reform Movement in Israel, Palestinians, and Israelis who all work together to build relationships. Admittedly, before landing, I did not know a lot about Israel.
This trip offered me and the other participants the opportunity to experience Israel through the lens of social justice and balance, respecting differing points of view. When we arrived, I was awestruck by the number of leaders working for peace; leaders working for a more just and equitable Israel, and organizations that recognized Israelis and Palestinians both need to be included at the table to create true change and bring about reconciliation.
My biggest takeaway as a gay, black, and Reform Jewish man is that Israel is messy. There is no question about this. How else would you describe a nation that has had five elections in the past four years and managed to elect a regime filled with racism and populism? A government that has no codified constitution. A government filled with religious fanatics who may think my right to exist or even be a Jew should be questioned?
However, it is in this messiness that I fell in love. Upon arriving, my first experience was touching the land and making a connection. Rabbi Joshua Weinberg took us on a journey through mountains and even through a cave. Being afraid to ruin my shoes, I walked barefoot on the land. With the dirt, rocks, water, and soot under my bare feet, I was able to let myself go and surrender to a higher purpose.
I was home and my home is messy.
In the messiness I saw family, I saw a land that I connected to. I felt hope. As American Jews, I believe it it's our responsibility to not only care about Israel but also to pay attention to what is happening.
We have an obligation through ARZA and the World Zionist Congress to make sure that the values and principles of the Reform Movement, which advocates for a place in Israeli society for people like me, are at the forefront of the conversation.
Many people have asked me how I feel after leaving.
I feel hopeful.
I feel hopeful that the many organizations we met with and their leaders are able to continue the conversation. I feel hopeful that there are young people who are willing to sacrifice familial relations and customs for peace. I am hopeful that the synagogue of Beit Daniel, with its inspiring young adult population, will let all of Israeli society know that in Judaism, in Israel, we all have a place and home.