When I first started university as a Jew, a Zionist and an Israeli at an establishment sparsely populated by fellow Jews, many students having never even met a Jewish person in their life, I felt like I had a mountain to overcome; in terms of my responsibility to educate my peers and in terms of discovering my own identity and what being Jewish means to me.
Before university, Judaism had never really seemed like it was a big part of my life or who I was. But that was because I lived in a Jewish community and gone to a Jewish school. All my friends were Jewish. Words like ‘schlep’ and ‘shvitzing’ were part of our daily vernacular, Bar Mitzvahs and Aufrufs were part of our social calendar, and even though I consider myself far from religious, I was culturally immersed in my Jewish life. And because I’d never known any different, I took it for granted; it didn’t seem important to me.
But when I began university and there was nowhere to buy kosher meat so I found myself asking my parents to bring me frozen chicken, and just going without when my supplies diminished (unheard of for me), I realised that perhaps the Jewish part of my identity was important to me after all. Each Sunday that rolled around without bagels for brunch, each night of Chanukah on which I had no lighting of a Chanukkiah or my mother’s homemade latkes to eat, my sense of Judaism became ever more important to me.
Each time I told my friends I was going to Israel for the summer and they asked, ‘isn’t it dangerous?’, I felt a little sad that even after two years of my trying to explain and educate them, their perception of Israel was still a third-world war-torn terrorist country. These people were my best friends; I wanted to share everything with them, yet this part of my life that is so important to me seems so alien to them.
However, each time I begin to lose home and feel a sense of defeat, small victories remind me that small steps are actually still progress.
My best friend, who had never met a Jew in her life save for the Charedim she’d seen in her hometown, describing them as the ‘men in suits with the curly hair’, asked me if she could come and visit Israel for a few days this summer. She spent hours, with my help, convincing her parents that it was safe for her to go. Not only will I be opening the eyes of one person to the reality of the place I hold so close to my heart, but an entire family, and their children after that, and their children after that. And I force myself to remember, each time I feel defeated, each time I feel as if the mountain still in front of me is unconquerable: educating one person is the same as educating an entire world.
Ellie Hyman has been our student blogger for the past year. She has just finished her second year at Durham University. If you're interested in becoming a student blogger for the JC, please read this article and contact us!