What Israel Means to Me - An Alum Spotlight

Blog image - What Israel Means to Me - An Alum Spotlight

The following essay originally appeared in the now defunct newspaper The Jewish Transcript in 2009. It was also my college admission essay; I wrote this half of my lifetime ago at the tender age of sixteen, having recently come back from living in Israel for several months.

I am sharing this again, sixteen years after writing it, because its enduring message is an important reminder in these times of frightening antisemitism; there is nothing more powerful in the world than to know and love yourself.

Israel is inextricable and elemental to the Jewish soul and being. Every individual, secular person of Jewish heritage may not feel exactly this way, but that does not make it any less true. Most Jewish people who visit Israel and touch the land of our ancestors will understand intimately the profound, visceral, transcendental experience espoused below.

There is absolutely no difference between the love that Native American people feel for the beautiful terrain of America, and what ethnic (and religious) Jewish people feel for the land of Israel. Against all odds, across time and space, Israel is the land of my ancestors, that my parents and their parents and so on have continued to worship and yearn for, even after a thousand years in forced diaspora.

Any attempt to strip Jewish identity from the land of our ethnogenesis is intrinsically violent, racist, antisemitic, and coercively assimilationist. Jewish people are allowed to exist (in our homeland and elsewhere) without bending to the will of antisemites.

Jewish people, like any person of any identity group, have a right to proudly embrace all of that which makes us unique (and all of that which therefore makes us indispensable and beautiful parts of an infinitely variegated human collective). We have a right to know ourselves; we have a right to self-determination in our ancestral homeland; we have a right to be proudly Jewish.


What Israel Means to Me


The past few years have been a relentless journey on my path to self-discovery. Through both adversity and complacency, I have achieved a great deal of self-awareness. Yet nothing has made so deep an impact on me as my trip to Israel. My new insight towards my Jewish heritage has given me an incredible sense of self-realization; like a cartographer filling in blank spaces on a map, I finally feel like I know who I am: a Jew.

I arrived at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program expecting little more than creating new friendships. Little did I know, I was in for a magical transformation, a total metamorphosis.

Combining class-room learning with corresponding fieldtrips, I was exposed to a method of integrated experiential learning that not only fascinated me, but allowed my history to come alive right before my eyes. I embarked on a multitude of different adventures, from the arduous climb at Masada where I observed the most extraordinary sunrise I have ever seen, to wandering around Tzfat, allowing the spirituality of the Kabbalah to overpower me.

I have learned of redemption and valiance from biblical characters such as Sampson who vehemently fought the Philistines, and from modern heroes such as David Ben-Gurion, without whose passion and tenacity the Jewish homeland might not even exist today. The holy locations and numerous heroes all instilled in me a sense of appreciation; these provided an outline for the previously ambiguous shaped land that now comprises my Jewish identity.

I waited somewhat reluctantly to begin studying the Holocaust. My anxiety stemmed largely from the fact that I had already learned about this catastrophic event and wasn’t sure I had the strength to do so again. These feelings were countered immediately once we began our in-depth study of this period.

Surrounded by other American Jews experiencing the same sensations as I did, I further comprehended the impact Israel had had on me. Engulfed in tears at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, I had an intriguing realization that no longer was there an issue of capacity; no longer would I feel indifference in the suffering of my people. Through my immersion in the Israeli culture, I had developed a palpable connection to the Jewish people that made my heart ache for the suffering my people endured.

After those difficult Holocaust-filled days, we mitigated our shaken and vulnerable minds by spending a Shabbat in Bedouin tents in the beautiful Negev desert. I sat among my friends watching the sunset turn the sky brilliant shades of purple and red over the infinite sand dunes, and despite the discouraging and haunting events we had learned about earlier in the week, I felt g-d. The spiritual being within me that I had always sought, emerged before me in that moment.

Gazing later upon the dazzling star-filled night sky, I found that I had shaded in the outlines of this theoretical continent; I discovered with great pride how my senses of passion, resilience, and adaptability corresponded directly with those of my Jewish ancestors. I knew from that moment the pivotal role of Judaism in forming my identity.

My search for absolute self-discovery will indubitably continue throughout the entirety of my life, but I must say with eternal gratitude that this rare opportunity to live in Israel I have been blessed with, has provided me with a new outlook.

The three aspects of Judaism, Torah (tradition), Am (nation), and Eretz (land), in just two months have shaped my identity in ways that many search a lifetime to find. I am sure several contours will be added to my map, but, nevertheless, I discovered what was the enormous gap missing in my heart, and I know now who I am: with proud and undying love, I am a Jew.


Mallory Mosner is a queer Jewish writer and Ayurvedic practitioner, and proud graduate of AMHSI Spring '08.