Israel: No filter

By Stephanie Zavala
Participant in the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth & Tarrant County Leadership Program 2014-15

3/22/15 - Originally posted on

Just landed in Philly with a bit of a heavy heart. There is a lump in my throat, like I've left a friend behind. Israel is everything, and yet so much more than I had ever imagined. If the only thing you know of Israel is what you see on the news, read on social media and see online–you don’t know Israel. You will never know Israel until you dip your toes in her seas. 

Until you ascend her mountains where ancient kings dined. 

Until you walk through her valleys where nature thrives, battles were fought, and life sustaining rivers etch ancient scars into her soil. 

You will never know Israel until you walk the streets of our ancestors that now intermingle with a bright, vibrant, modern world. 

You will never know Israel until you spend time with Israelis. Until you hear their stories that are interlaced with a pride and love for their country that many of us cannot truly begin to understand. A country that symbolizes a life force birthed in the ashes of horror and death. You will never know Israel until you hear the Israeli father, seeping with emotion, trying to convey his own paradox of wanting nothing but to maintain the innocence of his young children while being called up for service at war time. Not a distant war fought on foreign shores, but a war in his own back yard. 

You will never know Israel until you understand the definition of complexity and only then will you begin to scratch the surface of a nation forced to balance the politics of the world while others send bombs into schools to kill their children. 

You cannot understand this land until you are an Israeli Defense Force soldier standing at the top of Masada reciting Masada Will Never Fall Again.  

Israel is not perfect, because she is human. She lives and she breaths. She wants nothing but to live a life. The same life most of us want. One where we can earn a decent living and raise a happy, safe family. You will never understand her soldiers or her walls until you are charged with protecting her children against violence and aggression. 

You will never know Israel until you step foot on her shores and walk with her people. She is brave and fierce, and her fierceness is inspiring. She inspires me to live in the moment. 

She inspires me to truly be blessed by each day that I am given. Most of all she inspires and invigorates my Jewish soul. 

I honestly feel as if I have a second home. I have a tangible connection to the life force of my people. 

She is in my heart forever, and yet she has been in my soul since the dawn of creation.