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Natalie Silverlieb

How I Found Zionism in My Backpack

natalie silverlieb
Natalie Silverlieb

I have a magical backpack. I received this gift when I first volunteered as a madricha with Taglit-Birthright. My seemingly average blue backpack is anything but that. It fits an extraordinary amount of items and I’m convinced it miraculously expands to fit my needs. Most importantly, the backpack emblazoned with an Israeli flag patch sewn on the front also manages to hold my memories. Each time I look at my backpack I am reminded of how unexpectedly my life was changed after my first trip to Israel as a Birthright participant. Like a magnet, my love for Israel has drawn me to return time after time, and soon again to participate in the Career Israel program. This backpack has traveled with me across the world and is like my touchstone to Israel, for Israel is always with me wherever I may be.

I am grateful for the many travel opportunities I have had, but with that exposure has also come a tangible-albeit unfortunate awareness of the anti-Semitic and the anti-Israel feelings that persist throughout the world. My cherished backpack, bearing its Israeli flag with pride, has exposed me to anti-Semitism both while traveling abroad and even at home in NYC. At times I have had to cover the Israeli flag patch with tape when I encountered anti-Israel demonstrations in Istanbul, and at a coffee shop I found myself turning over my backpack so as to not draw attention to its Mogen David.

I’m ashamed to say that I started to question whether I should leave my beloved backpack at home. It is in these moments that I felt an overwhelming longing for Israel. It is devastating having to conceal who I am, a feeling I know that many endure every day in this world. I am Jewish and I am Zionist; I say this proudly. I say that with an intense emotional connection and a fierce commitment that supersedes anything I have yet to experience in my life. I feel a strong personal connection to the cause of Zionism as I have in my own life been forced to conform and suppress who I am as a Jew and passionate supporter of Israel. I yearn to be able to walk down the streets with my backpack and openly display my love and pride for Israel. In a place where most are Jewish, I feel at home, free from this fear of discrimination. I have arrived at the answer to my question: I refuse to leave my backpack at home. I refuse to deny who I am as a young Jewish person, as a proud advocate for Israel’s right to exist and prosper as the Jewish State and the safe haven for the Jewish people. It is our biblical and moral right to prosper in the land of Israel, where world Jewry has the opportunity to return to the land that has been the home for the Jewish People for millennia.

I am a Zionist, a humanitarian, and a philanthropist; in the words of John F. Kennedy, “I am an Idealist without illusions.” I have a responsibility to heal the word -Tikkun Olam- and to pursue social justice worldwide. I am acquitted as a Zionist to serve as an ambassador for Israel to the world, to direct the world’s attention to Israel’s successes and to its wonders and that which it exemplifies. There are many of varying faiths, races and ethnicities that support the Zionist cause, who acknowledge the potential for a rippling effect of equality and freedom the Jewish State holds for the rest of the world. In my eyes a globally recognized Jewish State of Israel symbolizes opportunity, equality and prosperity for all people who have suffered persecution; for If we as Jews can break this cycle of persecution and hatred that has been plaguing us throughout history, then the possibilities are endless for all people repressed. It is my belief that to be a Zionist today, advocating for the Jewish State, is to have a global-social consciousness and to be pro-active in aiding those who are oppressed. Our world is facing significant battles and we cannot afford to be blind to human suffering and indecency. As Zionists we are proactive; fighting against racism and war, terminal illnesses, hunger, corruption, modern day slavery, child sexploitation, ad infinitum. It is my obligation as a Zionist to respond to injustices against Jews and gentile alike, unifying all in the hope of an improved humanity. I attribute my ever-growing consciousness and need to help those less fortunate to my Zionist beliefs in a flourishing Jewish state, the burgeoning future of a people persecuted throughout history, and the hope and possibilities that Israel will continue to inspire worldwide.

There may be varying definitions of, and opinions about Zionism, but for me it is the beacon championing human rights in support of all oppressed people. Some may call me an idealist or unrealistic in my hopes, but my goal is to live in a world where I wear my backpack openly on my journey in support of Zionism, and to ensure that others have the right to walk proudly, carrying with them their own message, their own “backpacks.”