It’s June 2009. I am in Israel on a CAMERA Student Leadership trip , and I’m on the phone with my mother.
“Mom, I want to join the IDF.” I was almost 19 years old at the time.
Now, fast-forward to September 2014. In two months time, I will enlist into the IDF Spokesperson’s unit.
It took me a while. A decision more than five years in the making.
It’s the realization of a dream. I guess it’s not the typical dream. Others dream of being a dancer, or a doctor. Still others dream of being the president or an astronaut. My brother, at age three, confidently asserted his ambition of “driving the big green garbage truck” when he grew up. But I could never quite decide on that one thing I wanted to be, and my aspirations spanned from being an artist to a lawyer to an environmental scientist, and then back to an artist.
But that CAMERA trip led to a university major, which led to a career path, which led to a life path, which led to aliyah, which led to IDF enlistment. I guess I felt it for many years but never quite said it until now; I dreamed of becoming an Israeli.
A VIP, a Very Israeli Person.
And the simple question I get asked when traveling abroad suddenly took on a whole new level of significance.
“So where are you from?”
Israel. Not France, not Australia, not Turkey, not Brazil, not Japan. And not the USA, the magnificent country I am very proud to have been raised and educated in. I answer: Israel.
I am an Israeli citizen now, and from now, on everything that Israel is and is perceived to be is stamped across my forehead.
And, how should I put it? A lot of people are not so fond of Israel. Or they are ambivalent, or confused. They hear a little of this and a little of that, and anyway, they don’t like to pick sides.
And there are those who hate Israel with the very core of their being and consider every human ill on this planet to be the fault of Israel.
But most are just confused.
And here I was, someone who was driven to a teary state of emotion at Ben Gurion airport when she saw the photo exhibition of all those immigrants to Israel from Yemen and Ethiopia and Russia. Someone who can watch the IDF’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on endless repeat. Someone who experiences bouts of excitement at the idea of social gatherings in Israel that include religious Jews and Arab Muslims, and everyone in between.
So I did it. I put on the “Israeli” hat and marched outside. It’s not easy. I constantly miss my family in the States. I am exceedingly more sensitive than the average Israeli to rude clerks in stores. I fruitlessly, endlessly struggle to avoid the blazing sun here. And did I mention there was a war here just now?
But I did it, because, just as the dancer was meant to undulate with majestic beauty, just as the doctor was meant to pour every ounce of their ingenuity into saving a life, so I was meant to be an Israeli, and to inspire the world with the vibrant, raw, beautiful, heart-wrenching, monumental story-in-the-making that is Israel.
World, when you face Israel, you face me. When you Google Israel, you Google me. When you think about Israel – think of me. And when you think VIP, think Very Israeli People.
Ariella Charny, a former Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) Fellow at Tufts University, made aliyah to Israel after graduating. She will begin her national service to the Israel Defense Forces in the Spokesperson’s unit this November. This piece was originally published in the CAMERA on Campus Blog In Focus