Ariella Charny, former CAMERA Fellow at Tufts University, made aliyah to Israel after graduating. She will begin her national service to the Israel Defense Forces in the Spokesperson’s unit this November. This piece was republished in The Algemeiner.
It’s June 2009. I am in Israel on a CAMERA Student Leadership trip, on the phone with my mother.
“Mam, I want to join the IDF.” I was almost 19 years old at the time.
Now, fast-forward to September 2014. In two months time, I will enlist into the IDF Spokesperson’s unit.
It took me a while. A decision more than 5 years in the making.
It’s the realization of a dream. I guess it’s not the typical dream. Others dream of being a dancer, a doctor. Still others dream of being the president or an astronaut. My brother, at age three, confidently asserted his ambition of “driving the big green garbage truck” when he grew up. But I could never quite decide on that one thing I wanted to be, and my aspirations spanned from being an artist to a lawyer to an environmental scientist, and then back to artist.
And then that CAMERA trip lead to university concentration, which lead to career path, which lead to life path, which lead to aliyah, which lead to IDF enlistment. I guess I felt it for many years but never quite said it until now; I dreamed of becoming an Israeli.
A VIP, a Very Israeli Person.
From then on, that simple question from the Swedish tourists at Park Guell in Barcelona suddenly took on a whole new level of significance.
“So where are you from?”
Israel. Not France, not Australia, not Turkey, not Brazil, not Japan. And not the USA, the magnificent country I am very proud to be have been raised and educated in. I answer: Israel. And I can see in that flash of a moment all the articles and pictures and assumptions and associations the Swedish couple have with the word “Israel” swirling through their minds. I smile and bid them a wonderful vacation.
I am an Israeli citizen now, and from now on everything that Israel is and is perceived to be is stamped across my forehead.
And, how should I put it? A lot of people are not so fond of Israel. Or they are ambivalent, or confused. They hear a little of this and a little of that, and anyway, they don’t like to pick sides.
And there are those who hate Israel with the very core of their being and consider every human ill on this planet, including shark attacks, to be the fault of Israel. People who patrol the internet spewing sizzling nuggets of callous hate at the very mention of the word “Israel,” even if it was a typo, who would rather see kittens drowned in a bucket than so much as smile at a Zionist.
But most are just confused.
And here I was, someone who was driven to a teary state of emotion at Ben Gurion airport when she saw that photo exhibition of all those immigrants to Israel from Yemen and Ethiopia and Russia. Who can watch the IDF’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on endless repeat. Someone who experiences bouts of excitement at the idea of social gatherings in Israel that include religious Jews and Arab Muslims and everyone in between and around in a spectacular display of coexistence and the spirit of humankind.
So I did it. I put on the “Israeli” hat and marched outside. It’s not easy. I constantly miss my family and friends in the States. I am exceedingly more sensitive than the average Israeli to rude clerks in stores. I fruitlessly, endlessly struggle to avoid the blazing sun here. And did I mention there was a war here just now?
But I did it, because, just as the dancer was meant to undulate with majestic beauty, just as the doctor was meant to pour every ounce of their ingenuity into saving a life, so I was meant to be an Israeli, and to inspire the world with the vibrant, raw, beautiful, heart-wrenching, monumental story-in-the-making that is Israel.
World, when you face Israel, you face me. When you Google Israel you Google me. When you think Israel–think of me. And when you think VIP, think Very Israeli People.