In anticipation of this event, I interviewed Aggies about their personal connections to Israel and why they’re excited to celebrate its 70th birthday with Celebrate 70.
Daniel Vainish, a fourth-year political science and philosophy double major and an LGBTQIA student, feels an irreplaceably strong bond with Israel. Since 2008, same-sex families have been allowed to jointly adopt, compared to the limited “co-guardianship” rights that were instilled before. In the Israeli Defense Force, openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender soldiers serve without hindrance in all branches of the military. Transgender soldiers’ transitions, injections and surgeries are also covered by the military’s health insurance — something the U.S. has never done.
“In most places I need to stand up for my identity and beliefs as a gay Israeli Jew,” Vainish said. “Israel is a place where my identity is protected by its legal system, a place where I’m not relegated to a minority status because of who I am. I know there is a place that will welcome me for who I am. I am so excited to celebrate this monumental time in Israel’s history with Celebrate 70.”
The beauty about Israel is that you can feel this connection that binds you to the land without ever visiting. First-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major Sascha Recht has never been but still feels this sense of connection to Israel.
“Israel is important to me because it’s a connection to my people, my culture — a way to constantly remind me of those who came before me and the traditions they embraced,” Recht said. “As a Jew, there is an immense comfort knowing I can go to Israel and feel at home at any time because our people’s connection to that land is unprecedented. I’ve been so fortunate to be welcomed by the Jewish community at Davis and found a community that shares this love for Israel. Israel’s 70th birthday is important to me because it signifies the permanence of Israel.”
Jews around the world feel this connection to Israel, to their homeland. Most people think that Israel is only important to Jews, but that’s far from reality. Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, is home to three major religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
On a recent trip to Israel, fourth-year political science major Nicholas Francois came back feeling more connected than ever.
“Being a non-denominational Christian with no cultural ties to Israel and understanding the instability of that part of the world, I never expected the overwhelming feelings of joy and fulfillment I found in Israel,” Francois said. “Calling it magical sounds cheesy, but that is the word I’d use to describe standing in 1,000-year-old churches, floating in the Dead Sea, visiting the West Bank and camping in a Bedouin village. Challenge your beliefs and experience Israel for yourself. Israel’s 70th birthday event on campus will be a wonderful way to celebrate a country that embraces different religions and cultures.”
Dana Benavi, the vice president of Aggies for Israel, is an Israeli-born student who feels a deeper connection and love for her country.
“Israel is my home,” Benavi said. “It’s where my parents got married, where I was born, where my family lives, where I laugh, where I cry, but most importantly it’s where I can proudly be Jewish. Celebrating Israel’s 70th birthday is important to me because it’s a chance for me to proudly celebrate my family and my country.”
There is this sense of connection for Jews who move from Israel that comes from all the history that the land of Israel holds: from feeling secure in a country where Jews are the majority to knowing that you always have a home to go to.
As an Iranian Jew, Israel is a place I can call my home. It’s a country where 33 of my relatives live. It’s the home for Arabs, Muslims, Christians, Baha’is, Druze and many other religions. It’s a place where people invite strangers to their homes for weekly Shabbat dinners. It’s the country that opened her arms to my parents when they had fled Iran from religious persecution. Israel is about having a place that anyone can go to and be granted sanctuary. Israel is much more than a sliver of tiny land in the Middle East; she is living proof that the Jewish people have, against all odds, survived and returned to their home where they will continue to live and thrive.
Contributed by president of CAMERA-supported group Aggies for Israel and UC Davis CAMERA Fellow Charline Delkhah.
This article was originally published in UC Davis campus paper The California Aggie.