I’m not the first and I won’t be the last

It’s a story that may seem common, the daughter of an Israeli father who grew up in “The Valley” of Los Angeles and made Aliyah after college.
March 11, 2016

It’s a story that may seem common, the daughter of an Israeli father who grew up in “The Valley” of Los Angeles and made Aliyah after college. 

Perhaps my story sounds familiar. But the truth is, that’s the point. My experience growing up in a Jewish Israeli household, going to Jewish day school, spending my summers at Jewish sleep away camp, and falling in love with Israel and Israelis—it’s not uncommon.

I’m also sure my experiences standing up for Israel in college aren’t too uncommon either. In today’s campus climate, being pro-Israel can carry some unwanted results, to put it lightly. Even being actively Jewish in college requires its own diligence. When I got to UC Santa Barbara, for the first time in my life, I had to make independent decisions like, what am I doing for Shabbat? Am I going to Hillel?  Will I skip it this week? Where on campus do I fit in?

Being Jewish wasn’t as convenient as it was before I got to college. I wasn’t surrounded by the vibrant, strong Jewish community I had grown up with in LA. At certain points, being Jewish on the college campus felt uncomfortable. And when you add Israel into the equation, the dynamic got even more challenging. It was the first time I had ever faced anti-Semitism or heard absurd lies and accusations about Israel and Israelis. I felt isolated and even scared at times, but I knew I had to do something.

I became active in on-campus pro-Israel advocacy. I dedicated myself to learning the issues backwards and forward so I could be the most effective advocate possible. I participated in educational programs and trips to Israel to enhance my knowledge. I wanted to set the record on Israel straight. Eventually, I served as President of American Students for Israel (ASI), organizing social events and lectures to help ensure that Israel was receiving fair representation on campus.

I was known as “The Israel Girl” on campus, which I took pride in. But instead I was sent threats via e-mail, menaced on Facebook and ostracized for supporting the country I loved so much.

But the hate didn’t stop me, it only emboldened my connection to Israel, and inspired me to go there after college to pursue a master’s in conflict resolution. I knew others were having a similarly difficult experience standing up for Israel on their campuses. I figured if I could get an advanced degree in Israel, I would be that much more qualified to return to the United States and be a positive force in the Israel advocacy world. That was the grand plan, to study in Israel for ten months and return to the U.S.   

Sitting in my apartment in Tel Aviv today, I am the living proof that “Man Plans and G-d Laughs.”  Coming to Israel on my own for ten months was different than my past visits. I had been to Israel countless times before, either on a short-term program or with my family. But when I started living independently in Tel Aviv, furnishing my own apartment, living day to day life, and meeting other English speakers who had moved to Israel permanently, I realized that maybe this whole Aliyah thing was a real option.

After all, I thought, people had done it before me, people will certainly do it after me, maybe I should just go for it. I began feeling that Israel was really where I should be. Eventually, it got to the point where if I didn’t give it a shot, I knew I would always regret it.

So I did it, and I have zero regrets. I fulfilled my childhood dream of joining the Israel Defense Forces (not an easy feat when you’re already five years older than the average recruit). After I was released from the army, I was a founding resident of Moishe House Tel Aviv, where I met my fiancé (we’re getting married in April). And I had the privilege of working for Nefesh B’Nefesh to develop their program for assisting lone soldiers serving in the IDF.

I love my life here, and the friction I felt standing up for Israel back in college has transformed into an energy that fuels my connection to Israel on a daily basis. No matter what I’m doing with my day – whether it’s something as significant as walking past Israel’s Independence Hall on my morning commute, or something as menial as running errands – the sheer fact that I’m doing it in Israel gives my life so much meaning. Just by living in the Jewish homeland, I feel my life has historical importance.

So yes, my story may sound common. But if it sounds like any part of your story too, know that you aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last.

Maya Liss is a Los Angeles native and made Aliyah in 2009.  She currently lives in Tel Aviv and is developing international partnerships between universities and corporations with a company called Spring Theory. She is also a true fanatic of Israeli breakfast. The Los Angeles community can learn more about the Aliyah process at the Nefesh B'Nefesh Spring Aliyah Fair in LA on March 13.

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