The Year

Looking back at my year in Israel

I have lived in Israel for almost a year now. A year can change a person. Yet, my year has not. I have not changed, I have grown. When it comes down to it, my progress in the past year has been far greater than any other period of my life. I have accomplished more, learnt more, struggled more, wondered more, and thought harder and deeper than ever before. Yet, I have not become a new person, I have not abandoned who I was, I have not changed. I am adamant on this point, as it is much harder to grow than to change. Throwing away everything and building anew upon the ashes is immensely easier than fixing the broken and going beyond what was thought possible.

I must admit that although I have not changed, I am drastically different than before. Many may not recognize what I have become, my philosophy has changed, my goals in life have changed, the way I talk and conduct myself has changed, but I have not. Every old part of me is still present because I have not thrown out my past life, but furthered it. I have found the mistakes within my reasoning and corrected them, is fixing an idea the same thing as throwing it out? I have grown beyond what I was and have created a new self, a self that has gone from seeing the world in black and white to seeing the gray in all of its beautiful shades. What has happened through the development of my ideas is not an intolerance of difference, rather a comprehensive empathy that enables me to connect to others. I am happier, I am healthier, I am wiser, yet I am still me, a better me.

Through my 16 hour days, my 112 hour work weeks, long nights and longer days, hard months, and a year saturated with struggle I have finally begun to learn what it means to be human. Through the millions of words, thousands of chapters, dozens upon dozens of books, I have finally begun to learn what it means to learn. I finally begun to see that the journey is more important than the goal, that the act is more important than the intention, that the relationship if more important than it’s fruits. I have finally begun to see that the cliches found throughout our history are more than true, that literature and art is an attempt to describe the indescribable, that only those who are so immature as to defame the awe-invoking grandeur can be so calloused to not see the value of our past. Our hunt for truth can often times blind us to the purpose of truth, we refuse to acknowledge the paradoxes of our lives:

“that the source of their paradoxical character has its origin in the essential polarity of [the] human being, in the opposition between unconditional truth and man’s necessarily conditional perception of the truth, in the opposition of unity and multiplicity, of the general and the particular, of the universal and the individual.”

(Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Israel, The Intimation of an Answer).

Do we wish to live or do we wish to think about living, to abstain from happiness until it can be proven, to not love until we are sure of our investment? This year I have learnt that life is complex, greater than any one of us, therefore to focus only on ourselves is to leave out the bigger picture, that we can never accurately portray reality alone, it must be a group effort.

Everyday, there is a prayer that is said by religious Jews all over the world: We realize how fortunate we are to live in a world where “the fallen are supported, the sick are healed, the bound are released, and those asleep in the dust are given faith.” It is a statement among the truest that can be said. Before we can hope to create change in this world, we must realize the there is massive impact to be had in the mundane. While Plato may have thought that “human affairs are hardly worth considering in earnest”, even he recognized “we must be in earnest about them, a sad necessity constrains us”. He does apologize for “his low opinion of mankind”, yet that is not enough, the trivialities of life are not sad, they are meant to be our goals, the very chance of us being able to “make gardens and eat their fruit,” “to never be removed again from our land”, to sit “underneath his own vine and fig tree” is the stuff of dreams! We must realize that meaning does not come from grand dogmatic visions, from promises of eternal salvation, from the honor of glorious strife, but from the simple lives that we lead today. It comes from the ‘I-Thou’ confrontations, from “the significance of the situation” (Martin Buber, I and Thou, pg. 95). We must be willing to have purpose in our every-day interactions before we can have a purpose that drives us towards a larger-than-life goal.

What I have said may seem overly-passionate and superfluous to most, but I speak like this as the words that are hard to grasp usually contain the most meaning. We use complex descriptions because we live in a complex world, because we have complex emotions, because we are immersed in complexity.

This past year I have grown so much that many may erroneously think that I have changed, but I have not. As I start to come to the realization that my life is about to take yet another drastic turn as I (temporarily) leave Israel, I have started to contemplate how my growth will affect my path going forward. I am confronted with the same future of uncertainty that I had before I left for Israel a mere year ago. I am going to be going from a religiously infused community with priorities on relationships and freely guided learning to a college campus with a priority on self-gratification and learning for the sake of a degree. I am not scared by these changes, as I know myself and how to live within such an environment, but I am dreading the loss of growth that will result from this transition. I will no longer be able to learn what I want, to create my own curriculum, to choose my own peers. I am leaving, once again, to a world of risk just as I started to get comfortable.

This is not bad, to me everything has a purpose, but I must prepare for the culture shock that is to come. I am bound to receive, as my good friend Dan Jutan once said, “A culture shock within my own culture”. There will be a lot to be gained from what is to come, yet it is an entirely different kind of opportunity. The way I see it, it will no longer be an atmosphere optimized for growth, rather a domain in which my growth will be tested. College will not be a walk through the park, not intellectually and especially not ‘spiritually’, but that is fine as the rewards for this risk is not growth but resilience. I will no longer be building upwards, but testing my foundations, and reinforcing my frameworks. There is a chance for complete collapse, but this is slim, and it seems to me that the danger comes not from failure but from stagnation.

We as humans are not built for passivity, Leonardo Davinci once wrote “Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; all the more so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind” (The Notebooks of Leonardo Davinci, I Progolemna, 1883) Sherlock Holmes once told Watson that “Boredom is far more hazardous to your health than any fever”. We are an active species, thus when we fail to grow we inherently shrink. I must be ready for the barrage upon my beliefs while I strive to grow amongst the thorns. In order to end up further than I am in these coming years, I must look not within, but without. I must look outward to my community, to my friends, to my family in order to strengthen myself in the face of passivity, to prevent the damage that stagnation can cause. I must dig in and stick to a schedule, I must find support in those who surround me (and thus be surrounded by those who can support me), and I must never forget that we are here to grow, to be better than we are, that to accept where we are is to forgo where we can go, that to find comfort today is to abandon the potential of tomorrow.

My journey has led me down a road that “teaches man to never be pleased, to despise satisfaction, to crave for the utmost, to appreciate objectives to which he is usually indifferent. It plants in him a seed of endless yearning, a need of spiritual needs rather than a need of achievements, teaching him to be content with what he has, but never with what he is” (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is not Alone, The Endless Discontent). As I walk along the path less traveled I must continually remind myself that it will make all the difference.