Israel and the Search for Meaning

Benji Davis made Aliyah in 2009 from Los Angeles. He served as a Lone Soldier in the IDF and is the Israel Program Manager at Nefesh B’Nefesh.

People love to ask, “So why did you make Aliyah?”

I have a plethora of answers.

Sometimes I like to quote my good friend Avi Schaefer, z”l, who used to say, “Hummus, Goldstar and the Israeli girls.”

Other times I mention, “Well, my favorite movie since age five has been The 10 Commandments. Moses led the people of Israel to the Promised Land way back when, and I always wanted to take part in that journey.”

I also heard someone answer that question say, “Being Jewish in Israel means you’re a player in the game. Outside of Israel, it’s just a spectator sport.”

While I do work at Nefesh B’Nefesh, I’m not really into the idea that being a Diaspora Jew makes you a spectator. And it’s taken a while but many of us in Israel have overcome the negation of the Diaspora in our Zionist ethos. But this proclamation got me thinking of the nuance of ‘why I decided to make Aliyah to Israel’ as opposed to ‘why I left the United States.’

For me, personally, I identified an unbelievable opportunity to make a difference for the Jewish people. I’ve felt this unique sense of connectivity to my place of residence and to the surrounding communities, neighborhoods and people. There’s an awesome family feeling that is just so Israel.

While it’s true many of us Jews born outside Israel think Israelis can be ruder than our American compatriots (putting it nicely). But maybe the “not waiting in line, poor customer service, saying whatever is on your mind” attitude is not a rude mentality, but rather an expression of a genuine society.

Only in Israel can you be waiting in line to buy milk, and someone says, “Hey I was here first, move!” And then two seconds later the same person hears you on the phone speaking in a funny accent and says, “It sounds like you’re not from here. Where’s your family? Do you need a place for Pesach Seder?”

Sometimes this informality of our society leads to more than just holiday invitations. The best way to network here is probably not putting on a suit and going to a conference with your black leather folder, filled with CV’s and business cards to distribute to potential movers and shakers.

Quality networking here starts at the makolet.

You’re in line and your American accented slicha starts the conversation with a neighbor in sweatpants who happens to be a mover and shaker. One things leads to another and she says, “My hi-tech company is looking for help with our biz-dev. Here’s my card, I want you with us.”

This informal networking is a testament to our bonds as a people.  The sense of trust and the ability to connect with anyone is rooted in our common connection.

While I was born an American citizen, I was born into the Jewish people. I feel proud of the opportunity America gave my family fleeing persecution and the success of our community in building a vibrant Jewish life integrated into the socio-economic fabric of our host society. While my grandparents’ generation paved the way for my parents and me to fully integrate into American society, their peers in the land of Israel were protagonists in one of the greatest historical justices of human civilization – the reconstitution of our exilic and diasporic people to our homeland.

And what’s amazing about my American-Jewish story is I had this incredible opportunity to choose where I find meaning in my journey. While many of my friends found it at home in Los Angeles, I’ve embraced our shared homeland just one 15 hour flight away.

My Aliyah, my life in Israel, has been this most incredible opportunity to find meaning because I got to be a part of this incredibly miraculous return to the homeland of my people. And I feel it every day, whether it’s on Shabbat walking the streets of Jerusalem with my wife, in my professional life helping Olim navigate the web of this incredible experiment that is modern Israel, and even when I wait in line to buy milk or run into my neighbor at the makolet.

We live in an amazing era of Jewish opportunity. It’s on us to navigate our journeys to find our own meaning, whether it’s in our home, our homeland, or maybe a mix of both.