My affiliation into Judaism began when I joined Hashomer Hatzair Hungary at the age of 16, and became a member of Sim Shalom, a Hungarian Progressive congregation shortly afterwards and have been a Reform Jew ever since that turning point in my life. However, these communities were not much more than grounds for socialising for me until three years later, when I visited Israel for the very first time in my life. My Taglit trip and subsequent volunteering on kibbutz Grofit made me fall in love with the country and finally realise that the existence of a Jewish State is indispensable in keeping Judaism alive. My short stay in Israel made me gain a deeper insight into life in Israel and see that this land is the source, the centre, that fuels Judaism in the Diaspora.
The inevitable questions raised by this topic are how to define Israel and how Israel relates to the Diaspora. I am presently volunteering on kibbutz Lotan where I recently attended a session led by Benjie Gruber (rabbi of the Arava Region), where he asked what exactly we can call ours and what it means to do so. This question is a major one on a traditional kibbutz like Lotan, where private property does not exist at all, but, evidently, the question might be broadened to the whole State of Israel, and in this case, the following problems arise: If Israel is defined as the land that we, as Jews, can actually call our own, as opposed to the land Jews of the Diaspora have been living on, then what exactly is it that makes it ours? What makes a Hungarian Jew, for instance, not live on his own land, as opposed to an Israeli one, who does? Moreover, if a Hungarian Jew should decide to make alia, then will he finally live on his own land, even though he sees it for the very first time in his life? If after being unable to provide a satisfying answer to these questions, one should finally reach the conclusion that Israel had better not be defined as “our land”, then he has just returned to the starting point and is once again faced with the problems of what to call ours and, maybe even more importantly, what Israel is.
Given the fact that these questions have caused innumerable disputes and splits in Judaism, I am evidently not going to provide a black-and-white answer for them, but I would gladly welcome any viewpoints, comments, on the topic and I am also going to share mine. To me, calling something my own – or our own, for a nation – originates from a deep spiritual attachment towards that entity, rather than from material sources. Therefore, a Hungarian Jew having lived only in Hungary but loving Israel can call Israel his land just as well as he can call Hungary his land provided that feels it to be so. That is why, even though I have spent only roughly three months of my entire life in Israel so far and regardless of where I might live later on or to what extent I should agree or disagree with the current politics of Israel, it is and will always be my land, and to all of us who share a deep love for the country, it will always be our land.
Isabelle Menczer is an active member of Sim Shalom, a Progressive Jewish Congregation in Budapest, Hungary. There she serves as a teacher and is head of the youth group. She is also a valued member of the ARZENU community.