TEL AVIV – Now that the High Holy Days are over, I finally have time to sit on my balcony and reflect on my past month on Aardvark, a gap-year program run by Masa. I graduated from Beachwood High School, and I came here to strengthen my identity through living on my own in the land I feel connected to the most. Both Jews and gentiles connect to Israel through many different ways, whether it be through food, music, art, or religion.

I personally feel a connection to Israel through all of these things, but I feel it the most when I spend Shabbat in Jerusalem. Although I live in Tel Aviv, on Friday afternoons you are likely to find me at Machane Yehuda buying food for Shabbat. I’ve recently learned how to cook and clean on my own. On Aardvark, we are forced to learn how to budget properly and buy food to keep in our apartments.

There may not be as much apparent religion living in Tel Aviv as there is in Jerusalem, however, even in the “city that never sleeps,” it has its times where it fails to meet its expectations. For example, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, the streets were quiet and dead. Those dead streets reminded me a lot of my most recent experience at the Kotel. After being told not to go for security reasons, I went regardless recently.

Expecting the massive crowd of diversity that there usually is, I found only a small group of soldiers and a few people praying up close at the wall. The soldiers were still celebrating Shabbat, however, I had never seen the Kotel so empty in my life. Although the emptiness is temporary, seeing the lack of people there made me extremely angry because it means that the Palestinians succeeded at preventing us to openly practice in our own land.

Everyday in Israel should be like my Simchat Torah experience in Tzfat. My experience, where I was able to joyously sing, dance and celebrate being a Jew. Not only did I feel safe shul hopping, but I also felt safe roaming the mystical streets at night detached from any source of technology or form of outer communication. That is what Israel is and should stay as. It should always be that place where a public bus driver can say Shabbat Shalom and make you smile, not where you have to think twice and fear stepping onto that same bus.

Living in this country my passion continues to grow. I will continue to live a normal, fearless life here, because letting these mindless acts of terrorism get in my way, just gives these radical Arabs exactly what they want. They crave for us, as Jews, to be submissive to them. I will continue to go to my internship at a fashion studio during my mornings and to my classes late in the afternoon. In addition, I forbid myself to give such Palestinians the satisfaction of defeat, and I hope and pray that my friends, family, peers and whoever may be reading this, will do the same.

On a beautiful Friday morning, sitting on my balcony in my home of Israel, she remains standing proud, and I stand immensely strong beside her.

Mara Friedman is a Beachwood resident.

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Letters, commentaries and opinions appearing in the Cleveland Jewish News do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, its board, officers or staff.

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