By Rachel Sofaer

This Yom HaAtzmaut I am reflecting on how living in Israel has affected my life over the past six years. I left California, where I was born and raised, and moved to Israel to study at seminary right after college. In California, I lived a relatively sheltered life so I wanted to experience living in Israel before making the commitment to make aliyah. The first year I lived here, a war broke out. Of course I was a bit scared, but I looked to Israelis for support and guidance. Now, six years later, we have another conflict right before we are supposed to be honoring the fallen for Memorial Day and celebrating our existence on Yom HaAtzmaut. Once again, there were sirens and I felt shaken up. As it happened on Cinco de Mayo, I thought about what I would have been doing if I were in California, celebrating the Mexican holiday. Although it would have been much more fun and carefree to be in California right now, I would never leave the life I have built here.

I am a stronger, more confident, more resilient person than I would have ever been if I stayed in California. In Israel I have struggled with Hebrew, bureaucracy, having no family, and cultural differences, but because of all these things I know how to handle myself. I’ve learned to stand up and speak up for myself. To ask when I need help from friends, who have become like family for me. To understand that living life in your comfort zone isn’t really living your life to its fullest. I’m not saying that it is the right decision for everyone to move to Israel or to travel the world as I’ve done in the past few months. Even if it is just a small step to explore outside your door, I encourage people to take that step this year.

I never thought I would be living in Israel, and I only hoped I would travel the world. But I am glad that these things have come to pass because they have shown me that I can go above and beyond what I ever dreamed. As someone who is uncomfortable and anxious about change and the unknown, I have challenged myself in so many ways in the past six years. My life is not as comfortable as it was at home by any means, but there are so many positives that I receive from living in this country that it is all worth it in the end.

Of course I’ve had doubts and have thought about moving home, but I’m glad I’ve pushed through those and have continued to build my life in this country. I feel such a sense of unity and connection to Jewish history and culture here that I really miss when I find myself in other places for extended periods. With all the ups and downs, I’m still looking forward to living in this country and I am proud to be Israeli.