But of course! Just because it’s in in Israel does not mean that it is inherently Jewish. Coming to the farm, I anticipated an “Eden-esque” land where Jewish intention planted every seed. After about a week or so of orientation and adjustment, a casual conversation with a fellow Eco participant revealed that Jewish essence was less prominent in our program than we had imagined.
Then it occurred to me. This was an ecological farm (certainly advertised as such) and not specifically a “Jewish farm.” It was my own imposition of the “Holy Land Myth” that clouded my perceptions of my surroundings.
When I say “Holy Land Myth” I don’t mean to deny the religious significance of Israel. Instead I wish to give a name to my conflicted and complex impression of Israel as I embark on this five-month journey on a Modi’in ecological enterprise. Growing up in a conservative Jewish American home in the greater Philadelphia area, I was dictated a very particular picture of Israel: The homeland of the Jewish people – that being Jewish in Israel is the ultimate way to experience Judaism.
During my first experience in Israel I participated in a Jewish leadership fellowship based around social activism. After talking to many Birthright alums, it occurred to me that the tours for American Jewish youth were geared to show-off Israel’s assets. Now that I am have returned with the same glorified impression of being a Jew in Israel, I am beginning to flesh out my own observations and ask a question: Just how deeply does Israel impact my Jewish identity?
To be honest, my Judaism developed into something outside of Israel. Being active in my Hillel allowed me to experiment with Judaism. This experimentation fostered a feeling of being Jewish through the pursuit of social justice for all people and the environment.
To me, Judaism is active. Here I am on this ecological farm in Israel, filled with hopes of being with like-minded Jews. I also hope to gain a better understanding of the Jewish connection to the environment. Arriving here is Israel, and noticing that Judaism is not at the forefront of the farm, I am much more aware of the polarization of Judaism in Israel – contrary to my initial impression of unity in this land.
Israeli Jewish identity and American Jewish identity – especially regarding Israel – are two very different realities. It appears to me that Jewish Israelis are polarized in how they practice, identify and uphold tradition. Either they are strictly observant or strictly secular.
In my conversations with Israelis both on and off the farm, I concluded that this dichotomy causes deep animosity between the two groups in Israel. That someone would repel or overcompensate religion is an intriguing phenomenon to someone like me who always swerved in and out of the middle lane of Jewish observance.
In the States, there are bountiful ways to observe Judaism in classified and unclassified denominations. The stark contrast of the Jewish experience in the two countries has inspired me to pursue Judaism in the way it emerged to me so many years ago: meaningful, relevant and alive.
Ellen Brown is currently participating in Eco-Israel, one of Masa Israel’s 200 programs.