This morning on the train it occurred to me that I’m a convert and I remembered that I chose this. When I converted, almost 10 years ago, we were entering a decade of peace in Israel and the question of antisemitism seemed academic. “Are you ready to sign yourself up to be hated by the world? Are you ready to sign up any children you might have to be victims of antisemitism?”
Yes, I answered. Yes, because even with all the existential and academic threats, I thought my life would be better if I were Jewish.
On the train today, I was reading another long essay, thinking about my friends in Israel and I realized that my Jewish identity has shadowed over my identity as a convert. I don’t remember daily that there was a moment when I could have said, “you know what, forget it. The risk is too much, I’ll stay as I was before. No need to go to mikvah.”
So many friends, acquaintances and strangers on the internet seem to be troubled that more Israelis haven’t died in this conflict. They seem upset that Iron Dome and the bomb shelters that dot every block in Israel have kept Israelis safe.
These are, in part, the same people who take off their shoes and empty their water bottles at the airport. People who abide by the security theater of the TSA because it protects us from another September 11th.
Iron Dome and bomb shelters aren’t security theater. They are security measures that actually work. Security measures that are keeping people alive and stopping rockets from landing in civilian areas.
The month that I lived in Israel (November 2009), I gave a series of presentations about social media to people who worked at non-profits. One of those people was on the staff of the newly created Lone Soldier Center. Founded in 2009 in memory of Michael Levin, the Lone Soldier Center was going to try and provide a safety net for immigrants who joined the IDF but who didn’t have family in Israel.
Josh invited me to their Thanksgiving dinner in Tel Aviv, which turned out to be a house party with a few semi-thanksgiving themed dishes. It was one of the first Lone Soldier Center events, but now the organization is the real deal. Providing housing, meals and a safe space for off-duty soldiers. The safety net their families can’t provide.
I love Israel. I’ve been in a mad love affair with the country from my first visit in March of 2006. I didn’t expect Israel to become so central to my life, but I’ve been 9 times since I converted and plan on making a 10th trip in December.
I’m not blindly in love with Israel. I make a point to read nuanced essays on the current conflict. I wrestle with the reality of what is happening to the citizens in Gaza and the need for Israel to survive as a state. For the most part, I don’t discuss the current conflict, because so many people are either uninformed or backed into a corner with no room to wrestle with all of the competing realities.
I still believe my life is better for having converted to Judaism. For loving Israel. For loving my Israeli friends. For learning to bake challah and learning to pray in Hebrew and learning to order a beer in Hebrew. My life is better for knowing how to navigate Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. For knowing what the Old City smells like after a snowfall and for knowing what the waves of the Mediterranean sound like late at night.
My first night in Tel Aviv, during Tel Aviv 1, a few of us from the Chicago delegation went on a walk along the beach. Someone in our group steered us to the Dolphinarium and told us what happened there on June 1, 2001, when a suicide bomber killed 21 Israeli teenagers waiting in line to get into a disco.
The next day, we went to Yad Vashem and in the children’s memorial I remembered that I chose this. I chose this life, this religion and this second home for myself and for any children I might be blessed with, because I thought my life would be better with Judaism in it.