'95% of my classmates visited Israel when encouraged to do so by my Jewish high school. When they came back, they were unrecognizable. And my views began to change
In high school, I took a class called Modern Zionism. It was a mandatory course to graduate as I went to a religious school, one that aimed to educate me on both real world skills and how to be a “good” Jew. Mixed in with Torah values, we were urged to go to Israel for a year or more, to see our “homeland”, study at religion school, and deepen our connection with God.
Ninety-five per cent of my class went to study in Israel, attending expensive, exclusive gender-segregated seminaries. I did not.
When my friends returned, I no longer recognized many of them. The boys had grown beards and started wearing tzittzis, a religious garment, on a regular basis. The girls only wore skirts and dresses. Everyone kept kosher, aimed to be married before 25, and prayed at least once daily. Some even moved to Israel full-time.
When my classmates studied the Torah, I went off to college to study politics and human rights. I learned about the atrocities the Palestinian people face on the daily in the Levant. I saw an honest depiction of Israel, knowing the good it brought the world through medicine and technology, but also knowing of the human rights violations its government is accused of.
It was at college that I realized that myself and my fellow high school students were fed a religious narrative of why Zionism is right and good, and why taking this land away from our Palestinian “enemies” was just. It is the same narrative groups like Birthright give young Jews along with their free trip: that Israel can do no wrong because it was “reparations”, and that all of the problematic government’s actions can and should be excused because of the nature of the state’s founding.
It was at that point that, as a Native American, black Jew, I realized I could not support an active settler occupation just because we were told it was justified by God.
Rather than continue to support colonialism, I had to unlearn everything I thought I knew about Israel.
I read about the exploitation of Palestinian resources by the Israeli government, which the United Nations calls a human rights violation, and how Israeli forces slaughtered over 30 children in a protest for Palestinian rights. I read about the closure of the Gaza Strip, and how Palestinians have to apply to work or seek specialty medical care in Israel, and oftentimes have their application denied. And in one night of reeducating myself, I became a pro-Palestinian Jew.'
Read more: When you're a black Jewish American, it's hard to ignore what Netanyahu is doing in Israel
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