By Emma Duhamel
On Sunday, when I heard that we would be focusing our studies on Israel and we would be immersing ourselves in the study of Eretz Yisrael, my heart sank. I thought, ‘Oh, great, more learning of Hatikvah, and more about how Israel is my homeland.’ I have wrestled with that concept my whole life. Cleveland is my homeland. I was born by Lake Erie, and I live a short train ride away from downtown. I’ve never been to Israel. I wasn’t raised on beaches of Tel Aviv, and it would take a plane to get me to the Kotel.
Truthfully, I went into the day with low expectations. No matter what programming I participated in, whether it be images of a crying Palestinian child, Jewish woman getting dragged away from the Kotel, or Pride Parade stabbings, I didn’t think I would be able to become fully engaged.
What happened Sunday at Kutz was none of the above. We started out with a panel of faculty who answered some of the questions I had in rather simple terms: Yisrael means to wrestle with G-d. That’s not the only wrestle Israel has had. We learned of Israel’s struggle staying as a Jewish democracy without becoming a theocracy. We got to hear stories, thanks to Israel Story, an organization that is comparable to an Israeli version of NPR’s “This American Life.” Not only did I get to see a live show podcast, but I also had the chance to learn about Israel in a new way; a way I never had before. In the evening, we engaged in a Beit Midrash session, which is an hour of study that occurs at camp each Sunday night. At the end of those 60 minutes this past Sunday, I remembered what I had learned prior about the name “Yisrael” means: to wrestle with G-d. For most of my life, I have been wrestling with Israel. During all of this programming, I came to terms with that. I am wrestling, just like the name of the country. My questions, my difficulties, and my concerns engage me even more. And while I’ve yet to climb Masada or float in the Dead Sea, Israel is the homeland of my questions. That constant wrestling is my connection to Israel.
Am Yisrael Chai.
Emma Duhamel is a member of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood, Ohio. She is a member of NFTY Northeast Lakes Region.