OyChicago blog

Israel, that’s a part of me

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Ashley Kolpak photo

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a great event celebrating the launch of Living Jewishly, a newly published collection of essays curated by this blog’s founding editor, Stefanie Bregman. It was a nice opportunity to mix, mingle and give some thought to how I in fact, “live Jewishly.” 

A coworker of mine encouraged me to contribute to Oy!, so when she told me she would be doing a reading, I happily tagged along. I rushed to the bar after my long suburbs-to-city commute. It was a warm and welcoming venue (Matilda on North Sheffield) and I made my way to the back to survey the scene. There was a mix of faces new and familiar, and I put on my most engaged networking smile. I was hoping to meet fellow bloggers at the event and I was excited to meet other members of the Jewish non-profit community. 

As the evening wound down, several featured contributors delivered readings of their short stories. Some painful, some poignant, all moving in their own special way. It's interesting, I thought to myself, looking at the world through a uniquely Jewish lens. It was refreshing and relatable to hear stories...funny, wise, wonderful stories...geared directly toward what it means to be growing up Jewish in this generation. 

The older I get, and the more places I go, I learn just how fortunate I was growing up in a community that shares similar views to me regarding Judaism and Israel. In the wake of the new and upsetting clashes in the Middle East, I take comfort in my friends and family that support and share my opinions, or at least can understand where I am coming from. I welcome diversity, but there is something to be said for someone automatically being on (nearly) the same page about issues that are close to one's heart.

I'll never forget the first time I really, truly had to defend Israel to someone. It was a few years back on a train ride from Vienna to Prague. A friend and I sat with a young New Zealander. He was smart and friendly, and we all got on well enough. The conversation took a turn when he brought up the Flotilla, which had happened a few months before. He had some very unsavory things to say about the IDF and Israel in general and I was taken so aback I wasn't quite sure where to begin.

Growing up in the North Shore of Chicago, conversations like this just weren’t something I was a part of. In trying to defend my Zionist beliefs, I came off a little...flustered. I went on about how it was a PR nightmare, about how it is a terribly complicated situation; I conveyed quite clearly how upset the comments made me. I was missing the cool, calm streak of reason. It’s a flaw of mine, but standing up for what I believe in, in that moment, it made me proud to be Jewish. Wanting to stand up for my faith and my people that really made me appreciate my roots, where I come from, and where I want to go.

It’s conversations like that, and conversations discussed at the book launch party that bring up the ever-elusive topic....what does living Jewishly mean to me? To anyone? For me, I think it's a mixture of things. I don't know if it's a part of my every day. I’m hardly religious; my life is not dictated by halacha, for better or for worse. But Israel, that’s a part of me. I think of Israel often, I think of my friends there, I think of family. I think of what a magnificently beautiful place it is, of the incredible strife it’s under at this very moment. I think that no matter how hard I try to wrap my head around the situation, I'll never quite understand it. And that come what may, I hope for the best, and pray for my family and friends and for peace. 

More often than the rules of religion, I think about tikkun olam. When I was a little girl, my father subscribed to “Tikkun” magazine. When it arrived in the mail, I clearly remember asking what “Tikkun” meant, and the definition still strikes a chord with me all these years later.

So, “tikkun olam,” or “to heal the world”...it's a tall order, isn’t it?! After working for a non-profit (my first “real” job post-college), I’ve seen tikkun olam realized on an organized, very real level. I’ve been so very moved by the generosity of others by witnessing the efforts of those donating to a charitable organization. And there are so, so many ways that tikkun olam can be manifested, on a small and large scale. But what can I do, what can “we” do? Donate money, sure. Donate time, even better. “Living Jewishly” is an ever evolving concept. And as I grow older, I hope to up the tikkun olam quotient in my life. Because, in my opinion, there’s nothing like some good old-fashioned g’milut chasadim.

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