Not long ago, I was one of those millions of young Americans who found themselves without a job after graduation. So I pursued an internship, which has become a critical step toward professional development for my generation. But what mattered most in the end was not just what I did, but where I went -- to Israel.
For five months, I participated in Masa Israel's "Career Israel," which works to provide meaningful internships to Jews from all over the world in the field of their choice. The motivation behind the program is to provide a post-college Israel experience to young Jewish adults in the hopes that they can acquire real-world professional experience while developing a personal connection with the Jewish state.
My time in Israel was nothing short of life-changing. As someone interested in Israeli politics, I was privileged to intern for the Kadima Party, helping it produce content for English speakers both in Israel and abroad. Others on the program interned for organizations across the spectrum of Israeli life, including humanitarian organizations, clean-tech companies, media outlets, and political nonprofits and think tanks.
We all wanted to experience Israel through our own eyes and in a very real way. Seeing the country in terms of the Arab-Israeli conflict or purely as tourists on Birthright is not enough to grasp the complexity of modern-day Israel.
Recently, Peter Beinart wrote an article titled "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment," suggesting that secular American Jews are less attached to Israel, and that the American Jewish establishment is to blame. He asserted that a majority of nonreligious American Jews are liberals who feel alienated by a more politically right-wing Israel and an American Jewish establishment whose unconditional support for Israel goes against their liberal beliefs.
His remedy for this problem is for the major U.S. Jewish organizations to criticize Israel and push her toward a future that corresponds to "our" liberal beliefs. While I do agree that large portions of young American Jews are less attached to Israel than their elders, I believe that the cause and cure for this problem are oftentimes overlooked.
Beinart errs by assigning his personal liberal-Zionist ideology to a majority of a generation he is not a part of. For my generation, the important issue is not politics, but identity. While older generations of world Jewry were recovering from the horrors of the Holocaust or desperately working to help free Soviet Jews, we grew up in an America that allows Jews an unprecedented level of opportunity, and in an era removed from the horrors of Jewish history that befell our parents and grandparents.
A more globalized world and an increasingly tolerant America have led to an environment where racial, ethnic and religious lines are blurred to the point where the nationalism of Zionism is often misunderstood. The issue for us is figuring out how our personal Jewishness -- and in the same regard, a Jewish state -- fits into our American reality.
The "remedy" to this difficult issue is not revamping the U.S Jewish establishment, but rather giving young Jews a vehicle in which to discover Israel on their own. If we want future generations to truly develop a personal connection with Israel, then Birthright is merely the beginning of a much larger conversation.
Touring Israel is wonderful, but there is something you experience on a much deeper level when you actually have a home there. To live in Israel -- even for a few months -- is when you truly discover the soul of the state and its people. Anyone who spends a real chunk of time in Israel will develop a connection that will last a lifetime.
Since concluding the program, I returned to the United States to take a position with a pro-Israel organization, and this month, I am making aliyah, ready to begin a new life in Israel.
To be sure, most people on long-term programs do not decide to stay in Israel, but return to their respective homes. Yet we all share an experience that radically alters who we are and how we view the importance of a world where the Jewish people have a place to call our own. Who would have imagined all that could come from an internship?
Uri Snyder, a recent graduate of Penn State University with a degree in international politics and Middle East studies, grew up in West Philadelphia.