Change In Plans

12/22/2016 - 2:37pm
Meeting Israeli teens facing army service compelled me to switch my career track.

The writer, at right, with a friend during her eye-opening trip to Israel. Photos courtesy Elana Zabar 

There was nothing I wanted to do more than grow up. Adults always pestered me to enjoy my childhood, I didn’t have to pay bills, work a job and I could nap whenever I wanted. I guess I never really understood what it meant to be an adult. But I knew I wanted to have the freedom to determine my own bedtime, eat whatever I wanted and get my ears pierced at Claire’s. I never expected adulthood to be full of broken promises and unfair circumstances. I was oblivious to the fact teenagers across the world were buckling seatbelts in army tanks while I was buckling my seatbelt on the way to school.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to experience Israel with Robert I. Lappin Youth to Israel Adventure. While in the city of Tiberias, advocates from a variety of pro-Israel organizations came to speak with us about what a measly 16 year old could do to make change happen.  A speaker asked the Israeli students about the one promise their parents had made to them, and without a second thought each of them responded, “You won’t have to be in the army when you grow up, there will be no more war.” 

When I learned that my Israeli peers were raised on the hope that their future may be different from those before them, I understood how blessed I was to grow up on the promise of an education, career training and raising a family. I always knew serving in the army was a national requirement in Israel, but the reality of it had never sunk in until that moment. Hearing twenty Israeli teenagers respond with despair about growing up without peace opened my eyes to the depressing reality of their lives. In that moment I knew there was nothing more I wanted to do than help.

The future of strangers across the world seemed untouchable to me, and I used to be OK with that.  My childhood was filled with the notion that there was absolutely nothing I could do to change injustices, but my adulthood has helped me recognize how foolish that sounds. When I returned home I joined forces with the pro-Israel organizations AIPAC and StandWithUs and began to educate myself on the situation abroad. None of the hours of research I did were filled with sugar-coated facts to prevent engendering fear in a child. I read gruesome stories of knife attacks on innocent civilians, frightening articles about suicide bus bombings and even scarier charters written by terrorist organizations threatening both my homelands, Israel and the United States.

I crossed the bridge from childhood to adulthood when I decided I wasn’t going to sit and wait for change to happen, I was going to provoke it. During my sophomore year my experience lobbying Congress on behalf of Israel taught me that I was capable of promoting change that works towards solving societal problems and has advanced my knowledge of other injustices in our world. As much as I will continue to support Israel, I want to tackle other oppressions such as gender inequality, racial discrimination and equality for disabled persons; I want to be part of a movement that collectively changes society for the better.

My trip to Israel was assured to be an eye-opening, life-changing experience although I never expected it to change my plans for the future.  I went from wanting to be a civil engineer to wanting to study social justice to prevent future discrimination against all people; I’ve decided to major in political science. My Israeli friends are proud to serve their country and protect their loved ones, just as I am proud to serve and protect them by promoting access to the basic freedoms that more than just Americans should have.