(August 26, 2016 / JNS) By Eliana Rudee/JNS.org
When individuals move to Israel, most are transformed by the new experience in obvious ways. Some become more religious, others become more right wing, and many become more, well, Israeli. Over the last 13 months, I’ve witnessed my own transformation as the aliyah experience has challenged me, encouraging growth and risk taking. I didn’t realize the extent to which my mentality had changed until a recent phone conversation with my mom. I spoke with her about my plans for that evening, only to realize how much the plans entailed completely stepping out of the proverbial “box.”
That evening, from 5 p.m. – 11 p.m., I would lead two 40-person groups as part of separate programs. The first, a new program called Meet the Israelis, was organized by a good friend of mine. It’s a simple yet powerful idea: get a group of college-age Jewish students to meet a diverse group of young Israelis who represent different sectors of Jewish life in Jerusalem. The group takes turns talking to each Israeli individual: a soldier, a convert, an Ethiopian, a left-winger, a completely secular individual, and an oleh chadash. Guess which one I represented? Obviously, not the Ethiopian. So, yes, I represented the oleh chadash, the Israeli immigrant, and the group took turns grilling me with extremely personal questions. They asked about my previous work as a pro-Israel activist on my college campus, my life in Israel, the triumphs and challenges that I face, the reasons why I made aliyah, and about my Jewish identity. After speaking to the students on two separate occasions, I can say that I’ve successfully stepped out of my comfort zone without feeling uncomfortable about it. During the program, I often get very private questions about my politics, ideology, and relationship to God. These are topics that I often think about when I’m alone, but never have been asked to recite my beliefs concretely and concisely to people I just met, until now. I truly surprised myself at the ease with which I was able to become vulnerable and open up to strangers whose opinions and backgrounds I’d most likely never know.
The second group I led that evening was completely different, but I had to step out of my comfort zone even more so. I was asked to lead an Indian cooking workshop for a group of Israelis. Of course, I had cooked Indian food before, but never instructed any type of cooking, for that matter. I took on the challenge, knowing it would be a learning experience at the worst. So I planned the recipes; lentil dal and mango lassi. I perfected the recipes the evening before, and they were perfect. But the day of, the head chef switched around the recipes. Now, I’d make chutney instead of a dal, a welcomed change, as I also love to make mango chutney, but still a change that frightened my Type-A personality. When the workshop began, it only got scarier. I didn’t get all of the ingredients I asked for nor the utensils I needed. But I took a deep breath and told myself the famous Israeli mantra: yihyeh beseder, it will be okay. The set up was not great, to say the least; but somehow, I got through it with a smile. And after all that was said and done, I’d even call it a success! Everyone said the food turned out great! One girl even made one of the recipes at her home the day after and said it turned out just as she had hoped. All in all, my teaching skills were A-Okay and I realized that I am always harder on myself than anyone else.
As I reflect on the phone conversation with my mom, as I explained to her what I’d be doing, her surprise surprised me. I guess I hadn’t realized the extent to which I was naturally stepping out of the box in my new life. Months ago, when someone would ask me about my relationship with God, I would likely brush off the question and change the subject to something less private. Who was I – a secular girl raised by Conservative parents – to share my opinion about my views on God? And months ago, I would never have volunteered myself to lead a cooking class. My mom likes to joke that I didn’t know where our oven was back in Seattle. After all, I was always considered the runt of the family when it came to cooking. (My brother was already featured in the newspaper for his cooking prowess at age 13, and my dad is a decorated chili chef who smokes his own mouth-watering meats and cooks authentic ethnic dishes.) What I learned in all of this, other than I can make a mean mango chutney, is that I’ve become more comfortable taking risks and stepping out of the box since making aliyah.
Of course, making aliyah was a pretty strong precedent in taking a risk. And stepping out of the box in Israel, specifically, intensifies this truth of risk leading to growth. Israel is a nation made to take risks. Israel’s entire existence was, and is, somewhat of a risk. On the first day of its establishment, Israel was attacked! Of course, Israel’s founders knew of this risk but chose to take it anyway. That tendency towards risk still exists today in Israeli businesses, technology, politics, the army, and even socially. Israelis feel that this time on Earth is a blessing, but not a given. In other words, they never take life for granted and are therefore more open to taking risks, a true “YOLO” mentality. Buy the expensive wine, take the international trip, and put yourself at risk of failing, because nobody knows if tomorrow we will have the same opportunity. There is a definite freedom in moving to a new place and absorbing its culture; a freedom to reinvent oneself, try new things, step out of the box, fail once in a while, but most of all, learn and grow from those experiences.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Israel Girl” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.