About two weeks ago, I opened the doors of JFK airport and walked to my car in the snowy, New York cold. I held my backpack and my carry-on and rolled my suitcase behind me. I took a deep breath in and slowly let it out. I smiled as I watched my tiny cloud of hot air disappear as quickly as it had formed. If there was one thing I had missed while I was gone, it was the almost-harsh crispness of cold air. As a native New Yorker having just spent ten days in Israel, being back in the cold, dry air was it's own welcome home for me. But just as much as I missed the bitter cold while I was away, I already felt myself aching to be back on another continent, in another country, in the state of Israel, that had stolen my heart so easily.
Despite being raised Jewish, I had never felt a connection to Israel. I believed that it should be a safe place for Jewish people from around the world, and that it was a holy place, but it didn't hold personal meaning to me. Quite frankly, I think it's unfair to expect anybody to feel connected to a place that they have never been to before, and even more unfair to hope that they will perceive it as their "home". Having never been to Israel, not only did I feel little to no connection, but I wasn't able to understand when other people who had been there told me how they now felt a strong tie to this place halfway around the world. Honestly it seemed to be slightly fake to me. Not that these people were lying, rather that what they saw as a "connection" was forced and pushed on them so much that they had began to believe it was true.
If someone asked me about my connection to Israel a month ago, there wouldn't have been anything for me to say. However, having spent ten days there this month, my answer would be the complete opposite if my connection to Israel was questioned now. I still believe that part of this has to do with the push for Jewish people to feel such a way when they are in Israel, but I now see this push as coming from a place of love and unity rather than something materialistic and forced. I am not religious. I do not plan on ever becoming religious because it is not something that I want for myself. I'll never keep kosher or go to Temple every Friday night for shabbat. I did not weep at the Western Wall, and I did not attend services on shabbat in Israel when given the option, because it isn't customary for me to do so.
My connection to Israel was one that matches up perfectly to the "type of Jew" that I refer to myself as. I am a humanistic Jew, meaning that my Judaism is nontheistic. It isn't focused on my, or anyone else's, belief (or non-belief) in God. Instead, my Judaism is focused on the culture, traditions, and moral/ethical thinking of the Jewish people. I believe that roots and traditions, as well as strong morals, are what connect Jews, and this is how I celebrate my Judaism. So while I was in Israel, simply walking down streets and sitting in hotel lobbies, I felt such a solidified connection to this place that I had never been before, just because I was surrounded by other Jewish people. Everyone who found out it was my first time in Israel became ecstatic, they welcomed me and smiled with warmth and love.
Nothing will ever compare to the ten days I spent in Israel. I made memories I won't ever forget. Never in my life have I laughed so often and so hard, or met so many incredible people and grown to love them so quickly and deeply. From the Golan heights to Eilat, I spent ten days laughing, crying, and holding people's hands through the beautiful place that is Israel. And that is how I came to understand why and how so many people consider Israel to be something of a home to them, because it is now exactly that for me.