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“This is what it means to be one people”: Israeli-American Ava Weiner on Jewish Solidarity

October 25, 2023 | General News | Repairing the World

Two years ago, Central community member Ava Weiner made Aliyah to Israel. Reeling from Hamas' brutal terrorist attack on October 7, Ava shares a powerful reflection on her love for Israel and Judaism — and the importance of the sacred bond between Israelis and the global Jewish community.

Just over 2 years ago, I flew to Israel for the second time in my life. But this time it was different; I went with a one-way ticket, and I became a citizen upon landing. Making Aliyah was the best decision of my life.

Over these last two years, so many people have asked me why I decided to move to Israel. After arriving, I quickly developed my elevator pitch to explain it to everyone I met. It was some version of “I’m a Birthright success story, I wanted a change from New York, I was looking for a new experience. And who wouldn’t want to live by the beach?” To be honest, this question has always felt uncomfortable for me to answer, and it took me a while to understand this discomfort. I chose to move across the world to a country I had only been to once — I should have a pretty strong explanation, right?

A few months ago, I spent Shabbat in Jerusalem where I met a lot of new people, most of whom had made Aliyah for different reasons than me. Once again, I was asked many times to explain my decision, and every time I felt uncomfortable with what to say. You would think a year and a half in I’d have my answer down. But as Shabbat went out and I headed back to Tel Aviv, it finally came to me — while my original motivators such as “for a change” and “to live near the beach” were all valid reasons to want to move to in the first place, after building a life there they felt so trivial. My “why” became so much more than an experience. I struggled to answer this question because why I came doesn’t even begin to answer why I have stayed. And while this realization brought a lot of clarity, at this point I still didn’t fully comprehend my deeper purpose for being in Israel.

Other common rhetoric surrounding this topic is being told by many Israelis: “You’re crazy to move here from New York”. I always tell them I don’t see it like that — I never felt like I gave up so much. I was fortunate to go with the unwavering support of my family and the safety net of knowing that I had a life awaiting me in New York if it didn’t work out. These conversations usually ended with a comment like “the grass is always greener” and an unspoken agreement that we just don’t and won’t get each other. But it always felt like a huge disconnect for me as an American and an Israeli. It’s unsettling to feel stuck between two strong identities and two worlds that can feel so far apart.

Today, I am here to bridge that gap, and that purpose has never been as evident as it is now.

The way everyone in Israel has come together during this nightmare is impossible to put into words. But as a witness, I feel like I’m obligated to try. The minute that it was remotely safe to go outside, people started gathering snacks and toiletries at a meeting point in Tel Aviv. This initiative grew exponentially throughout the week. They shifted locations every day to accommodate the countless volunteers and supplies arriving. Multiple WhatsApp groups of hundreds of people quickly formed, with the goal of matching all kinds of needs, each of which were met immediately. People opened their homes to families from the south who lost everything. Friends volunteered to dig graves because the cemeteries were overwhelmed. The list goes on and on…

Right now, Israelis are in the thick of it: experiencing unfathomable grief, moving between funerals and shivas, seeing the horrifying sites firsthand, and working around the clock to defend our home. All while finding the energy to dance and have weddings and bar mitzvahs at army bases — I hope you’ve seen the uplifting videos.

We are currently in the month of Cheshvan; on a spiritual level, themes of this month include resourcefulness and perseverance. If there is anything I have learned about Israelis, it is that they are the most resourceful group of people. Since October 7th, they are doing everything they possibly can to protect our home, not just for themselves, but for all of us. And they are not going to stop. That is the Israeli spirit.

The astounding efforts from outside of Israel have not gone unnoticed. As someone who was on the ground, I can attest to this: your support is being felt in every way. But we must keep going, in honor of the Israeli spirit. So how can we continue to use our resources from here? The generous donations and loud voices go far — but I want to offer you a way to take this one step further that will sustain the momentum. To continue this fight together, as one united front.

Our spiritual activism is our superpower. We, as Jews, are a collective energy. This is what it means to be one people. The best thing you can do for Israel is to be the source of light for our collective energy. As Jews outside of Israel, we have the power, the space and the obligation to do so. This requires staying connected to our Judaism. Here are a few ways to participate:

  • Light candles if you’re home on a Friday night
  • Send a Shabbat shalom text to your family and friends
  • Attend services before a Friday night out
  • Seek out spaces of community
  • Practice one mitzvah a day

One of my favorite parts of life in Tel Aviv is the consistent weekly Shabbat dinners. It is so enjoyable to gather with friends, old and new, every Friday night. During this time, it has been moving to see so many friends across the world celebrate Shabbat in honor of Israel. It is crucial that we stay engaged in these ways, and not just for the duration of the war.

In whatever way you feel inclined to do so, I urge you to commit to it. Your light will spread through the entire Jewish people and give strength to Israel, our front line. As Reform Jews in the Diaspora, we have to be much more intentional about staying connected to our Judaism. It is something Israelis often take for granted. This is the disconnect between these two worlds. We need to fix it, and we can, and the time to do this is now. I invite you to join me on this mission going forward.

It is important to recognize that we can’t and shouldn’t stay fully consumed by this war, or we will burn out and that will work against us. Realistically, a time will come when most of us are unable to provide monetary donations. Our social media feeds won’t always be filled only with Israel-related content. And eventually we will have other obligations that prevent us from attending every event or rally in honor of Israel. But what we can sustain is this connection to our Judaism. My goal is not to convince you to become more religious. But when the time comes to return to some sense of normalcy, if we can tap into the cultural parts of Judaism that we find relatable and feel comfortable with, then we will continue to bring the light into our collective energy, do our part in supporting Israel, and keep these two worlds united. That is our lasting purpose.

I have always been a big proponent of finding and being the light in the darkness. It’s one of my strongest Jewish and Israeli values. Israelis live their lives not knowing what tomorrow will bring, something that is deeply embedded in the culture. They live intentionally and presently. They quickly move on from terror and war in an unnerving, but unfortunately necessary way. With the magnitude of this loss, it will take more time than in the past to find the light. But I wholeheartedly believe that it will happen, and we are all a part of that, as one Jewish people and one collective energy.

One of the best things I saw on Instagram was a post that said, “I promise to love being Jewish 10 times more than anyone hates me for it.” I have always loved being Jewish, it’s a huge part of my identity and another reason why I moved to Israel. I hope after seeing our strength, resourcefulness, perseverance, and our ability to make light in unfathomable darkness, that you, too, will love being Jewish even more. I hope you will stay even more connected to and engaged with your Judaism, whatever that looks like for you.

As I attempt to process the reality of what has happened, what keeps me going is the beauty that is my why. We are all grieving in so many ways. Admittedly, right now a big part of me is grieving my life in Tel Aviv - those trivial parts that brought me there in the first place. The joyous experience that is life in Tel Aviv: my daily walks by the beach, the feeling of the Mediterranean sun, the hours spent sitting at a cafe with friends. It won’t be the same. But through this darkness I have found some meaning and my why is more apparent than ever - Why did I move to Israel? To be part of something so much bigger than myself. And that can never be taken away.

For more ways to support our Israeli brothers and sisters, please visit Central's "We Stand With Israel" webpage.

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