After the end of finals last semester, I was definitely ready to drive home and sit in front of the TV for a few weeks.
I had planned to go to Israel a few months earlier, and I found myself a little annoyed that the trip interfered with my sleeping schedule.
But the trip was definitely worth giving up 12 hours of sleep a night.
While most students take a break from learning during the holidays, I learned about the history of a people – their dreams, hopes and desires.
I learned about their courage, and I was inspired by their bravery.
I had no idea that the trip that took me halfway around the world would affect me so closely.
It all started about 10 days before I was scheduled to leave. At that time, Hamas declared the end of a six-month lull in fighting.
And just days before I left, the Israeli Air Force launched a massive attack in the Gaza Strip in response to heavy rocket fire from the area.
I was about to travel to a country that was engaged in an “all-out war with Hamas,” Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.
A declaration like that would make anyone think twice about traveling to Israel.
But it would be selfish of me to go on and on about how scared I was. I only spent 10 days in Israel, but its citizens live with constant anxiety. Not just about their personal safety, but about what effect the country’s struggle with foreign threats and internal enemies could have on the future of their holy land.
But the Jews are no strangers to struggles and hardships.
When I boarded a plane to Tel Aviv, I was headed into a country populated by a people whose history is riddled with adversity.
The Holocaust was the single worst demonstration of hatred toward a group of people. Throughout Europe, Jews were taken from their homes and sent to camps to perish.
Six million Jews lost their lives. Many more lost their homes. Still more lost the things that helped them identify themselves as Jews.
Many family records are gone forever.
The Nazis took everything that meant something to the Jewish people – pride in their religion and a dedication to Torah.
Still more, Jews lost their grip on their dignity, spirit and hope.
The day Israel was declared an independent state marked a rekindling of a disjointed hope. I could see it on the faces of Israeli citizens when I visited Independence Hall in Tel Aviv.
In 1948, Jews across the world finally had a place to call home.
The establishment of the Jewish state of Israel came too late for the victims of the Holocaust, but today Jews are reveling in the pride they have for their homeland.
But 60 years after the end of the Nazi regime, Jews are still fighting to hold onto what is rightfully theirs.
I’m not sure that Israel is justified in its participation in the violence in the Gaza Strip. I don’t think anyone has the right to take any civilians’ lives.
But when I think about the Israeli people, the dedication they have to the state of Israel and the dignity with which they call themselves Jews, I can understand why they feel they need to defend themselves.
Even young Israelis, people our age, serve in the Israeli Defense Forces with honor and valor.
I traveled with six Israeli soldiers. Some were commanders, one 20-year-old girl was a shooting instructor.
When I visited Har Herzl, Israel’s national and military cemetery in Jerusalem, I could envision the importance the state plays in the lives of Israelis. Many of them were brought to tears when we witnessed the freshly dug gravesites of three young soldiers who had died in the recent violence.
I noticed one grave in particular of a young soldier. There was a picture of him. He had brown hair, brown eyes, a brave smile. He reminded me of my brother.
I noticed his birthday. He was born three months before me and died last year.
He was 20.
I can’t even imagine how much courage someone like him had to harness to put his life in danger for the future success of his country.
I couldn’t help thinking about my own life and my own responsibilities. I don’t have many compared to someone like him. The only person I have to worry about is myself, and I barely succeed in doing that. I am constantly behind on my laundry and I let class work pile up.
I nearly crumble under pressure, and holding responsibility has always been a challenge for me.
But the Israeli soldiers carry the burden of an entire nation. And not just any nation, but a nation that holds the strength, pride and courage of a people that deserve more respect than they have received in the past.
So please think again if you feel the Israeli people are unjustified in their aggressive response to the violence in Gaza.
It’s true that more violence may not be the answer in a situation such as this, but think of what’s at stake for the Jewish people.
The Holocaust was designed to wipe out the Jewish culture completely, and the state of Israel represents everything the Jews have overcome.
But they feel it is being threatened.
The people of Israel are not violent warmongers. They are proud individuals trying to keep their cultural and religious identity in tact.
A people such as the Jews who have struggled through so much adversity deserve respect, peace and a place they can call their own.
Sarah Raidbard is a senior English and Spanish major from Skokie. She is the Scout editor-in-chief.
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