On May 20, at 9:30 a.m., I became a citizen of Israel, the first sovereign Jewish state in more than 2,000 years. And, as I walked around Jerusalem on that first day, what struck me most was the feeling of responsibility — that I wasn't just a supporter anymore. This was now my country, and the responsibilities of citizenship weighed heavily upon me.
Though I have only been here for several months, what I've experienced in this short time has amazed me.
I've lamented our peoples' suffering at the Western Wall on Tisha B'Av; begun learning Hebrew, our people's ancient tongue that Eliezer Ben-Yehuda miraculously revived; attended state ceremonies on Yom Yerushalayim; bargained with vendors at the shuk; walked aimlessly through the winding alleyways of the Old City; toured the religious neighborhood of Mea Shearim; and, for the first time, observed the High Holidays — here, in the birthplace of the Jewish people.
I have, often through mere happenstance, met some extraordinary Israelis. While roaming aimlessly through the artists' colony of Yemin Moshe, I came upon an open house at the home of Bridgitta Yavari-Ilan, artist, writer and intellectual. Bridgitta, quite an anomaly, is a passionate Zionist, but also happens to be a Protestant from Sweden who spent her first years here caring for Palestinian orphans. Yes, she said, I could take her picture. Yes, I said, I'll buy her book, costing 195 shekels, "but, for you," she said, "I give a special price — 100 shekels."
I also had the good fortune of meeting a woman at the Herzl Museum named Francis Greenberg. When Greenberg, last year, at age 88 left the Pittsburgh home where she'd lived for 60 years, walked off an El Al plane and became a citizen of Israel, it was her second time trying to make aliyah — the first being 61 years ago, in 1947, on a ship called the Exodus.
My interest in meeting as many real actors as possible in this drama known as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict inspired me to tour the Dheisheh refugee camp, just outside Bethlehem. The people we met there reflected the kindness, complexity and pathos of the Palestinian people. While we were treated with warmth by our hosts, the art in the community center, which is used by the children of Dheisheh, contained works depicting messages of peace side by side with murals glorifying bomb-throwing terrorists.
It's also not every day that two middle-aged drunk Israeli Arabs sit down on the bench you're occupying on Ben-Yehuda, share their bottle of wine with you and discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the ideas of Spinoza and Camus. This impromptu, and quite spirited, tete-â-tete with Nadi and Razy seemed like the stuff of fiction but it was very real.
I toured the settlement of Eli, a few miles from Ariel, stretching over a vast mountainous area and encompassing a cluster of neighborhoods with nearly 3,000 residents. Kobi Eliraz, head of Eli's local council, spoke with immense pride about his community, and also wanted to make clear that he recognizes the authority of the state. If it decides to evacuate him from Eli, he'll fight the decision politically, but peacefully go along with the wishes of the democratic majority.
I also recently visited the military cemetery at Mount Herzl to attend a memorial (the third yahrtzeit) for Michael Levin, an American oleh from the Philadelphia area killed during the Second Lebanon War. Though I didn't personally know Michael, there is something about his life — and death — that has always touched me. This connection was heightened by my aliyah and my presence at the ceremony, witnessing the profound grief of his family, friends and fellow soldiers on a warm July afternoon.
It was extremely moving when Kaddish was recited, when Michael's father spoke, when his closest friend spoke — seeing and hearing their pain as they tried to hold back tears and carry on as they all must. Later, we all sang "Hatikvah" with Michael's family, as one family.
My move was motivated by a wish to do more than just experience Israel; I wanted to become an Israeli. It was inspired by the righteousness of the Zionist cause and an increasing sense of the weight of Jewish history on my shoulders. And so, my Zionist journey continues.
Adam Levick worked for the Anti-Defamation League before he made aliyah.