The Conspiracy

What’s Behind Israel’s Veil?

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For so many young Jews in North America, the idealistic images seen on particular trips with organizations including NFTY, BBYO, Young Judaea, USY, and especially Birthright, come to define our views of Israel. After my first trip to Israel, when I spent 4 weeks exploring Israel with my camp and NFTY friends, I immediately felt a greater sense of connection to the country that unites Jews from all over the world. However, this connection wasn’t complete. It didn’t feel holistic. In many ways, I felt more connected to Judaism and my Jewish friends than the Jewish state I had just spent four weeks exploring.

For the next few years, as I continued exploring my connection to Israel, even going to Jerusalem for a conference with other young Jewish leaders my freshman year of college, the connection still didn’t feel whole or complete. I still had so many questions.

But following my most recent trip to Israel with the University of Kansas (KU) Hillel’s Israel Leadership Mission, my connection with Israel changed dramatically. As I made my way through Ben Gurion Airport and found my seat on the airplane after an incredibly eye-opening and challenging experience, I felt confident about two things following my latest trip in Israel:

1. I would return to this incredible country as soon as humanly possible.

2. After examining Israel’s deep political and social issues, I would no longer view Israel as the perfect, infallible nation that so many young Jews believe it to be.

In Jerusalem, we engaged with members of the Haredi community and learned about their enormous struggles with unemployment, including that approximately 54% of Haredi households in Israel live below the poverty line. While many Jews only know the Haredim for their unique dress and intense religious beliefs, many Haredim struggle to attain the necessary skills to find jobs and provide for their families.

Our group then spent 4 days learning about and serving with members of the community in Ramla, a small city close to Tel Aviv and the only remaining Israeli city founded by Arabs. Ramla holds an extremely diverse population, encompassing Jews coming from more than 50 countries, and maintaining sizable Arab Muslim and Arab Christian populations. While these populations mostly interact with others of their own community, Ramla boasts several programs and forums to help the community engage in meaningful dialogue and relationship building, something very unique to many parts of Israel.

On one of our last days of the trip, we met with Wallee, a Sudanese refugee striving to attain citizenship and a better life in Israel. Hearing Wallee’s story was absolutely heart wrenching, as I learned about how Israel, the country created as a safe haven for Jews, would not provide that same opportunity for roughly 48,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from poor and harmful African nations.

In addition to these moments, our group also had incredible opportunities to visit and learn about the Muslim, Christian, and Armenian quarters in the Old City of Jerusalem, learn about Israel’s education system, and visit a Center for Independent Living to learn about Israel’s struggles with providing for the 1 in 8 citizens with at least one disability.

I now understand why I was unsatisfied with my first trip to Israel. The incredible place that is a cornerstone of the Jewish people is also a country with its own issues. It is a country that continues to struggle to adequately provide equal opportunities and rights to all of its citizens. It is a country that has marginalized people and invisible parts of society. And it is a country that must continue fighting for its right to survive and ultimately know peace.

Several times throughout our trip, I left the session feeling frustrated at the way Israel, a country that should serve as a “light unto the nations”, was handling its challenges. However, I needed to see the full picture, the good and the bad, to truly connect myself with Israel. Even among many policies that I disagree with, I know that Israel is worth fighting for because it has the potential to stand for equality for all people, justice for the marginalized, and serve the Jewish people and the world.

Israel is a complicated country with many of the same issues plaguing the United States and countries around the world. Israel is not perfect. And that is what’s behind Israel’s veil.


Evan Traylor is a student at the University of Kansas.

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