By Eliana Rudee/JNS.org
Exactly six years ago, when I was just 18 years old, I wrote as my Facebook status, “Doesn’t want to go home tomorrow 🙁 I live in America but my heart is in Israel.” It was only my second time in Israel and I just knew. I knew that the minute I stepped off the plane back in the U.S., my heart would be split in two, and nothing would ever be the same again.
I remember how when I got home from my first trip to Israel, I got into my onesie, a down jacket, and a blanket. It wasn’t actually that cold in Seattle, in fact, it was the summer. But I think that I was seeking some way to preserve everything I felt and experienced during that first trip. Perhaps if I bound myself so tightly in heaps of clothes, the life-changing experiences wouldn’t be able to escape from within me. Later, I found out that these feelings and experiences would never escape me, even if I had wanted them to. I wanted to return to Israel so badly after just a day back at home. I begged my parents to make a family trip to Israel the next summer, and they did. It seems that both everything and nothing has changed since then. My feelings of absolute love for Israel have remained. I still feel it is my country, I am a part of Israel, and Israel is a part of me. My heart is indeed still in Israel, and now I live here too!
Exactly four years after the 2010 Facebook post, I was back in Israel. This time, it was my sixth time in Israel. And, yes, for those who did the math, this was my sixth time in just five years. That’s how obsessed I was. But this time, I had much more knowledge, wisdom, and experience about life in Israel, both good and bad. It was the first time that I ever had to run for my life. This trip brought me to Israel during the 2014 summer war between Israel and Hamas. I can’t exactly remember how many times I had to run to a bomb shelter—perhaps it was five or six, but I lost count after the first few times. Again, not much has changed. Israel is still threatened externally. Thankfully, we do not have red alerts in Jerusalem right now, but we are still constantly threatened. Of course, it’s not only Hamas, but Iran, and by extension, Hezbollah. With the buildup of hundreds of thousands of rockets pointed towards Israel from Lebanon, it’s safe to say that our most serious threat is no longer Hamas. While the type of terrorist threat changes every now and again, the fact that there is still an existential threat has remained.
Nevertheless, terrorists never scared me away from the land with which I fell in love. Just a year after continuously running to the bomb shelter, I made the most important move of my life. I made aliyah. Making aliyah was a culmination of all of my deepest beliefs, emotions, and yearnings of the previous six years. Nothing could stop me. I became an Israeli citizen that day. And that changed everything and nothing at the same time. I finally received validation that legally recognized my connection to Israel. I became Israeli. But then again, nothing had changed. I had always felt a little Israeli; I was even called “Israel Girl” six years prior! Having a legal body recognize my “Israeliness” was great, but didn’t change how I felt: completely and helplessly in love with my country, Israel.
Today, I celebrate exactly one year since I made aliyah. I am having a big party at my new apartment in Rehavia with many new friends that I have made in the last year. It has been such an amazing journey so far; one that I’m so grateful to share with you. Sometimes I can’t believe it has already been a year, and other times, I can’t believe it has only been one year. Everything has changed in my life, but nothing really has. Here’s to the next incredible year in Jerusalem, more beginnings, and journeys that give meaning to our lives.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Israel Girl” column (formerly “Aliyah Annotated”) 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.