By Jon Ramsay
October 16, 2018
This is the first in a featured series of blogs by writer Jon Ramsay, friend of URJ Heller High. This series was written during a ten-day trip alongside the students of the Fall 2018 semester.
When you have a 10 hour, 15 minute flight ahead of you, there’s a natural concern about who you’ll share an aisle with. Will they make your trip feel like it’s 16 hours or 2? The entire span of human variety is wide open as you anxiously wait to see who you’re stuck or blessed with.
In my case, for the overnight flight from JFK to Tel Aviv, the character sitting next to me happened to be an American soldier named John. Much younger than me, and from a very different walk of life, we immediately found each other deep in rich conversation. As he opened up about his background, his training, and the few details he was allowed to provide about his operation abroad, I came to realize how much hope and ambition this thoughtful and dashing young man had imbued in his personal conception of Israel. For him, this was going to be a place of terrific opportunity.
This had me really thinking about what Israel means as a country, and what it offers to those who visit or immigrate. It reminds me a lot of America, actually. Israel isn’t just a Jewish state – it’s a melting pot for all kinds of people, a diverse mix of every variety of humanity, familiar and unfamiliar alike. It’s the center of a booming economy and vibrant culture that attracts extremely different individuals in a fascinating, ever-developing process of cross-pollination.
This impression was only more thoroughly verified as I parted ways with John in Tel Aviv, and met up with the persistently jovial and contagiously passionate Rabbi Loren Sykes. We drove together to Kibbutz Tzuba, home and campus to Heller High, and I reflected on what drew us all, independently, to this far-off place. I was greeted warmly by the friendly and hospitable Israeli madrachim, Omri and Nitzan, who remind me of my favorite counselors growing up at URJ Camp Harlam. I felt safe, reassured, and at home surrounded by the lush, peaceful Judean Hills and a community of like minded Jews.
What were my personal expectations of the country? To find a place that all my life people had been telling me was a home I could count on to open its doors to me. I didn’t think about how it could be a home to other kinds of people, far different from myself, at the exact same time, and without necessary contradiction or conflict. In his book Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, author Daniel Gordis writes “For almost two millennia – 1,762 years, to be precise – the Jews would live without political autonomy.” What’s miraculous is that, when seizing the opportunity to build their own nation at last in 1948, the Jews chose to construct a shelter for everyone, not only themselves.
If you want to know anything about Israel, know this – it will enfold you and accept you. There is a place for you here. Whatever opportunity you’re pursuing, this nation wants to be your success. And it’s a beautiful thing to feel so wanted and so immediately at home.
Jonathan Heller Ramsay has degrees from the University of St Andrews and University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He’s a writer with a passion for Judaism, pomegranates, and dogs.