I didn’t think Israel would change me.
I expected Israel to be a one-and-done trip. I would go, have my one travel-abroad experience, and live out the rest of my life in the United States, perfectly content to continue on the career path I was already on. I would have fun, learn about Israel, deepen my understanding of my faith, and never go to Israel again. Why would I need to?
I suppose this is one of those funny God moments people talk about. One of those moments where you have your life figured out, and God throws you a curveball.
I remember all of my trip in the holy land, but there’s one memory that stands out. One memory that lives in my mind, one memory that shook and shattered my plan for my life. The memory in question? Visiting the Kibbutz village, hearing the woman speak of the trauma her people experienced regularly.
I entered Israel excited and exhausted. I entered thinking I would learn, but not that I would learn this much. I thought I had a good grasp on the Palestinian-Israelis conflict. I thought I understood both sides. This speaker pulled that threadbare rug out from underneath me.
We visited the Kibbutz fairly early in our trip. We met the Israelis woman—her name is the one thing I can’t recall—by the playground in her village, and followed her through the community to her house. Filing onto her porch, we sat in pre-set-up folding chairs and listened.
Here’s when I started to feel God tug on my heart.
She stood up at the front, talking about how much she loved her community, interweaving stories of commonplace war and suffering throughout. Her community was safe, she said, before showing us the shrapnel that had landed in her yard just last week. She didn’t want to leave this village, she said, after describing the terror she feels every time the sirens would go off and she and her loved ones would rush to one of many bomb shelters. It was a good place to raised children, she explained, despite how ingrained war trauma was in their toddlers— so much so that no one had had to tell them to lift their arms when the sirens went off so adults could pick them up and take them to relative safety.
The life she lived I couldn’t fathom. I loved the community she told me about, the kind that you could trust. The kind you never wanted to leave. I hated the war she lived in, fought in, hid in.
What truly floored me, though, was when she told us about the social workers that would come after an attack to provide help and therapy to survivors. It was one sentence. Much like a throwaway line, one detail among many of her life.
That sentence lived in my mind. I’m a social work major, after all. This work fascinates me. It moves me—it convicts me.
That was the moment I wondered if I was too set on my current life plan. I had it all laid out—graduate college with a BSW and an MSW, acquire my License in Clinical Social Work, get my start at a teen treatment facility, and eventually start my own private practice. It was perfect, it was methodical, and it was my calling.
Hearing the woman in the Kibbutz speak about the trauma her community lives with made me question whether I really had it all figured out. Social Work was the right major, of that I was certain, and my calling was to heal in this field. Nevertheless, sitting on the porch of an Israeli woman’s house in an off-duty war zone, I started to consider working not just in counseling, but in situations like the Kibbutz. Not in another country, though. That didn’t come until later, after hearing Rami share the Palestinian side of the conflict and I experienced the Western Wall on Friday night. That didn’t come until I had fully and completely fallen in love with this country.
I knew about the suicide bombings before coming Israel. I knew about unrest. I knew the conflict was real, but I didn’t feel its reality until that moment with the woman in the Kibbutz. That talk took the conflict from idea to painfully, starkly real for me. It went from a distant, almost historical topic, to a moving and convicting need I wanted to address. I was going to be a social worker, after all. Why couldn’t I bring some light to darkness like this?
I suppose this moment didn’t change my perspective on the geopolitical situation in Israel in the way you might expect. I already viewed it as a tragedy. I already knew it was heartbreaking and affected everyone in the country. The speakers brought new information to light, new stories, new events, but I had always known the hurt in this conflict. But now? Now I view it as my tragedy, my heartbreak. It doesn’t hurt me, but now seeing these people hurt does. Israel and its people are no longer a world away from me, and this conflict is no longer something I have no ability to serve in.
I entered Israel expecting to learn, to taste new foods, see new places, and experience a different culture than my own. I wasn’t far off—I did learn, I tasted so many good foods, saw so many amazing places, and experienced a culture alive and vibrant, a culture I can’t get out of my head any more than the talk the woman in the Kibbutz gave. What I didn’t expect was the extent to which I learned, experienced, and grew. How could ten days affect someone so deeply? How could ten days become so powerful to someone? I can’t fathom it, but here I am, wishing I could go back to Israel, hear the woman in the Kibbutz village give her talk seven more times, and then make an effort to help heal the hurting people in this beautiful, vibrant country.