As a Jew who grew up in the Diaspora, part of the magic that Israel has always held for me is that when I’m here, I get to experience being a part of the majority, something that doesn’t exist for me anywhere else in the world. Even growing up in the large Jewish community of New York, where schools were closed for Jewish holidays and a Chanukah menorah stood alongside the Christmas tree, I still knew that I was different. It wasn’t a problem – I loved seeing the Christmas decorations and enjoyed the lights, but I felt special knowing that I was a part of something else, something that belonged to my family and my Jewish community. I felt a deep sense of connection to the Jewish community every week when my family had Shabbat dinner and went to services, knowing that my friends and peers weren’t doing the same thing, but being very aware of how special this time was for my family. It was like being in the inner circle, going to the menorah lighting instead of seeing the Christmas tree, and meeting other families like ours who followed the same traditions.
In Israel, that sense of community is flipped on its head. I’m part of the majority, and most of the time, I relish in that. I love going to the shuk on Friday mornings, and knowing that the reason it’s packed with crazy shoppers is because we’re all getting ready for Shabbat. I love that when I announced my engagement, I was wished mazal tov by everyone that I told, and that the whole country shuts down for Yom Kippur. I feel a sense of kinship with everyone around me on the bus, in cafes, and on the beach, because I know that we’re all connected in a way that I never was to much of the general public in New York.
But there’s also the downside with everyone being a part of the same tribe. I no longer feel unique. While I’m definitely a part of something greater than myself, I’m no longer a part of something intimate and special. I can relish in knowing that everyone around me knows about the holidays and the customs of the Jewish people, and as wonderful as that feeling is, I’ve found that I miss the intimate feeling of doing something with my family that made us separate and unique.
Zionism has given the Jewish people the opportunity to be the majority. It has lead to the creation of the Jewish State, where we’ve had to learn how to govern as Jews, how to create a Jewish society, and what it means to create and develop a Jewish community on our own terms. It’s exciting and liberating, and provides an opportunity to reshape what it means to be Jewish in this unique time in history. It’s a huge responsibility, and one that Zionists of every stream of ideology struggle with as the State of Israel continues to develop. I’m proud to be a part of the shaping of what it means to be a Jewish majority.
Yet, quietly, as an individual, it’s sometimes hard to feel like an anonymous part of a crowd, instead of the feeling of being a part of something special and separate. I, like the rest of the Jewish people engaging in the ongoing project of creating the State of Israel, am learning how to maintain my sense of personal, special identity, while embracing what it means to be a part of the majority.