TEL AVIV — Last Friday, my non-Jewish friend from Penn State — a friend from The Daily Collegian, the student-run newspaper I work for back at school — came to visit me in Israel.
My friend, a Christian, is very open-minded and relaxed, and she viewed this trip as a beach vacation as she traveled around before going home. I was happy she could perceive Israel as a vacation destination, resplendent with Tel Aviv’s white sand beaches and Mediterranean Sea, but I knew she would leave Israel with a much greater understanding of the land and its purpose.
The minute she arrived, I realized that though I didn’t do it purposely, my Zionist ideals, knowledge of Israel and desire to explain this land to her came pouring out of me with every word I spoke to her. I tried to squelch it, I tried to tone it down, but it somehow just came bursting out with every sentence — little by little, I was explaining the inception of the Jewish homeland, its sordid history since 1948, its various wars and conflicts and the current state of relations among its neighbors. The words flew out of my mouth before I even knew what was happening, and I often stopped to ask her, “I’m sorry, am I boring you? I can be quiet about this if you would like.”
She claimed she was not bored, and it was all very interesting and important to know as a tourist in the country.
Still, the question formed in my mind: Is it better to just shut up and let people enjoy Israel at their own pace, open to their own interpretation, likes and dislikes about the country, from an aesthetic viewpoint? Or is it right to explain each part of the country, its purpose and history and to explain why Jews are here in the first place.
I couldn’t seem to figure it out. If there were a specific Catholic state formed in the last century due to wars, historical claim on the land and genocide, would I want a Catholic yammering in my ear about the land’s importance? I decided I was thinking too much.
We arrived in Jerusalem by bus on the second day of my friend’s trip. There, we went on a free walking tour given by a nondenominational company. Exploring the four quarters of the Old City for my fourth time — and her first — she kept commenting about how amazing it was that three religions claimed this spot as their own, successfully and unsuccessfully co-existing all this time.
By the end of our trip, we were asked to write a blog for The Daily Collegian. Her’s stated that a week in Israel turned her, a little Catholic schoolgirl, into a Zionist.
Was this my intention? No. But I hope that people, especially non-Jews, continue to visit the country, instead of just watching the news, before forming their opinion of Israel.
(Ashley Gold of Monroeville, an incoming senior at Penn State and a staff writer for The Daily Collegian, is writing a series of columns about her semester of study in Israel.)