My friend, the soldier

Of everything I had the privilege of doing in Israel, the most impactful experience was befriending eight remarkable young members of the Israeli Defense Force. Even with a language barrier and 7,364 miles between our homes, I had never met a group of strangers that I felt so instantly at home with. Each of these soldiers was so loving and kind that our first encounter did not feel like a meeting, it felt like a reunion.

Five of the greatest days of our lives went by. They were spent in nonstop laughter.  The Israelis taught us their language, culture, and values and we embraced their lessons with loving excitement. We were family (we ARE family). I felt so connected to them that I almost forgot what made them different. I almost forgot that they are soldiers.

On their last day with us we went to Mount Herzl, a cemetery for many brave soldiers who lost their lives protecting the Jewish state. Many of the soldiers in our group had once known the bones that laid under our feet. They were their friends. This was a reality for them that most of us would never understand.

I looked around at the graves and I noticed two things. I noticed that each grave had an ended life inside of it but a flourishing life above it. From the top of each memorial was a little garden, each one different from the next as each human was different from the next. I couldn’t believe how beautiful of a perspective the families and friends of these brave soldiers were able to take. The love, appreciation, and strength in their hearts that compelled them to keep these plants alive and in turn, the memories of their loved ones alive, was astonishing. The second thing I noticed was how young these soldiers were. Pictures of men and women younger than me smiled at me everywhere I looked. They lived young lives, but they lived meaningful lives; and when they passed on, they did so with meaning as well. All throughout my time in Israel I have heard the quote, “Live for yourself and you will live in vain; live for others, and you will live again”. I looked around at my soldier friends and I realized that this value was all they knew. They were born to live for others, and it shows in everything they do.

As I thought about this and looked around at their faces for what may be one of the last times, a darkness that I’m not proud of fell over me. I was sad, scared, and angry. They did not choose this. They were forced into this at a young eighteen years old. They aren’t paid well. They are just kids; they cost less and they’re easier to control. I felt like the people who I had come to love like family were being exploited like slaves.

At that moment, my friend Or walked over to me. I expressed to him what I was feeling and he understood. He told me that there are two ways of thinking about it. One is like slavery. He said you can think, “I don’t want to dress like this, I don’t want to do this job, I don’t like my commander, I don’t want to be here”. But then my friend, the soldier, looked at me and said, “But meeting you all… and seeing how much you appreciate us… it makes me want to keep serving”.

I cried. I cried for him. I cried for Israel. I cried on behalf of all the Jews in America who take Judaism and safety for granted. What had we ever done to make him proud? Or anyone in this cemetery proud?

Since I arrived in Israel, many callings have been made present to me. I feel I have been called to remember and teach the lessons of the Holocaust, preserve my Hebrew culture, keep my Jewish commitment to God, and stand up for the country of Israel. Each of these is an active calling. Remembering and teaching the Holocaust requires me to research and understand things I have never thought about so that I can teach the truth of the events. Preserving my Hebrew culture means reading the Torah and questioning the purpose of God’s commandments so that I can use them to bond with my Dad like we used to and incorporate the traditions into my own family one day. Keeping my Jewish commitment to God is choosing to be the best human I can be, every single day, in every situation. Finally, standing up for the country of Israel, asks me to remember the history of my people and envision the tomorrow that we are fighting for so that I can be an advocate of Israel’s protection back home. This is what I can do and what all Jews can do to make my friend, the soldier, proud.fullsizerender-1

As You Are Me

To be completely honest, I don’t remember why I first started blogging… I can guess that it was probably motivated by a selfish desire to exert my opinion without backlash or conversation. I was very unsure of myself so I wanted to utilize a medium that wouldn’t challenge me. I was also afraid of being weird. I didn’t want to be the girl ranting on Facebook that my friends used as a topic of critical conversation, so I started a website.

I don’t care about being weird anymore. I idolize the Facebook ranters. I only feel authentic when I’m spilling my beans. But I still care about failing. I realized recently that I had never EVER done anything hard. My luck had always gotten me by without any effort, so I trained myself to run at the first sign of struggle and to keep justifying my actions until I believed me.

After thinking about my unchallenged life, the huge disservice I was doing to myself became clear. Frederick Douglass (and every other hero who made it to our history books) said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress”. By sheltering myself from my struggles, I was also sheltering myself from my growth. Even with my blog- I did it in a way that felt easy. I kept things hidden about myself and I only wrote when I felt like it because a schedule (aka accountability and commitment) felt too stressful.

I want to be accountable to my readers and I want to be committed to my goals. I want to write because I see a need in the world and I have an awareness of how my skills may contribute to a solution.

The problem that I notice more frequently than any other problem is how unfamiliar we are becoming with each other. As globalization and innovation allow the world to grow more and more connected, our standards and traditions cause us to grow further and further apart. In 2016, exceptionality is quantifiable. When I say this, I mean that being able to count and measure one’s followers literally allows us to see who is praiseworthy today. The most followed people right now are Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, and Kim Kardashian on Instagram and Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and Rihanna (honorable 5th place mention- Barack Obama- bless up) on Twitter. It is not my goal to judge our judgment. It is my goal to bring attention to the effects of our judgment.

Most of us are aware of the unrealistic expectations these idols cause. Those are not my concerns. Unrealistic expectations are always created by people who are “exceptional”. My concern is that social media platforms have given us a medium to create an image for ourselves like we have never been able to do before. With instant editing apps, the ability to engineer how we represent ourselves, and the capability to filter out “undesirable qualities”, we are less and less able to recognize ourselves in others. Social media is such an integral part of our lives. We rely on it as an accessible, minute-to-minute snapshot of the world. But while we can control others’ opinions of us and they can control our opinions of them, we cannot run from ourselves. We still know we’re imperfect.

So, where’s the problem here???? The problem is that I know I’m imperfect and you know you’re imperfect but we cannot recognize our imperfections in anyone else. This causes us to feel isolated and alone, regardless of how quickly the world is “coming together”. No one is talking about their problems, pains, and vulnerabilities. We put our best disguises on and in doing so we hide the similarities on our faces, the very things that connect us, the very things that make us HUMAN…

From now on, I will have a structure for my blog. I will put the time into it that it deserves. I will risk failing and embarrassment. I chose As You Are Me from the line in “I am the Walrus”, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together”. I am getting rid of “@EdenBernstein” and introducing “@AsYouAreMe”, in the hopes that you will see yourself in me. I will tell you about my mistakes and my struggles. I will show you my face. I will show you how I am human.

I hope you will show me your face, too. I hope that the beauty in our similarities will outweigh the fear in our insecurities. ❤