As Israel turns 70 years old, there are as many opinions, views, and experiences to share about the Jewish state as there are Jews on Earth. Everything from the crazy brilliance of Jerusalem to the blunt attitude of Israelis, from watching Palestinians get arrested, to getting into a budging war with a grandmother in the line for the bus. But for me, traveling right now in Belarus and Ukraine, one realization stands out above all else for why I love Israel, even with today’s refugee issues and political corruption.
Learning about the Ukrainian Jewish community has opened my eyes to Jewish politics operating under the rule of others. Seeing how the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, itself a product of wider European politics, underscores every Jewish cultural, religious, and political act in this region, is immensely frustrating. And while I won’t go so far as to say whether this is right or wrong (after all, in America the same phenomena occur simply with American politics), that is what makes me appreciate Israel as the Zionist dream it was intended to be.
In Israel, regardless of the crazy politics, corruption, situation, and disagreements, Jewish politics are playing out at the mercy of nobody and nothing else. Jewish politics are local, regional, national, and international. Yes, there is the natural push-and-pull of global politics and players, but largely speaking, we have self-determination. It isn’t just a phrase, for Jews to have self-determination, copied out of StandWithUS material. It is playing out right now, today, as we speak.
This, possibly, is the only thing that makes me so much as mildly comfortable with Jewish politicking in Ukraine. No matter how many rules we have to live under that are not our own, there is a place, at the crossroads of three continents, where even if we hate the rules, they are our own. A place where we choose our future, without wearing the chains forged by others. This reality, even as it frustrates Israelis and Diaspora Jews alike, is the one I will be celebrating with all my heart this Yom HaAtzmaut. May we never lose this gift again.