About The Author
Evan Traylor, originally from Edmond, Oklahoma, is serving as the inaugural Presidential Fellow for Millennial Engagement at the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). He is a recent graduate of the University of Kansas where he studied political science, Jewish studies, and leadership studies. Evan is an alum of the URJ Greene Family Camp, NFTY in Israel, the URJ Kutz Camp, and served as the 2012-2013 North American President of NFTY. Previously, he was an engagement intern for KU Hillel, a trustee on the URJ Board, a student member of the Hillel International Board of Directors, and a co-founder of the Hillel International Student Cabinet. Evan is thrilled to be working with Jewish organizations and synagogues to create meaningful Jewish experiences and communities with college students and young adults.
I am sixteen years old and preparing to board my plane in Tel Aviv to return home after a truly unforgettable summer in Prague, Poland, and Israel with NFTY in Israel 2010. As I laugh and cry with the other members of my group and reflect on the fantastic time we just had I am confident that I will return someday.
I am now eighteen years old and I am again preparing to board my plane in Tel Aviv to return home after representing thousands of NFTYites at Netzer Olami Veida, an exciting, frustrating, and inspiring annual gathering of Reform youth leaders from around the world. On this trip, I strengthened my relationship with Israel through leadership and learning, and I am again confident that I will return someday.
I am twenty years old and for the third time in my life, I am preparing to board my plane in Tel Aviv to return home after a ten-day trip to the University of Kansas Hillel’s Israel Leadership Mission. We examined poverty in Hasidic communities, met with an African asylum-seeker, and learned about inequality in Israel’s education systems. Through these interactions, I saw Israel as an imperfect country. And yet, my relationship with Israel grew stronger, and I reassure myself that I will return someday.
Growing up, Israel was always projected upon me (a certain vision of Israel was always presented to me). It was a magical place with great food, sacred sites, and a thriving Jewish culture. But I never truly understood why I should build a personal relationship with a country halfway around the world. As I reflect upon my three unique experiences in Israel, I appreciate how each one gave me a special connection to the Jewish state. It includes a deep connection and commitment to building Jewish community, appreciating differences in understandings of Judaism, utilizing leadership to serve people, expanding my Jewish education, and pursuing social justice for all people.
Even after these incredible experiences, there are so many people that try and project their idea of the “right” relationship with Israel upon me. They believe there is only one true way to be a Zionist and support Israel. For the sake of the Jewish community, this kind of perspective must not prevent each of us from creating a unique and holy relationship with the Jewish state.
After all my experiences in Israel, I am proud to be a Zionist and support a Jewish state that will truly serve as a light unto the nations. For a place that is so instrumental and inspiring to my understanding of Judaism and the world, it must always demonstrate the values of loving its neighbor, relentlessly pursuing justice for all people, and appreciating different ways of connecting with Judaism. My relationship with Israel is strong, yet challenging; it is inspiring, yet complicated; it is holy, yet difficult.
I told myself I would return someday, and that day is January 16, 2017, as I co-lead a URJ Kesher Birthright Trip with 31 young Jewish professionals eager to create and explore their own unique relationship with Israel. For some, it will be their first time in Israel; for others, this is another episode in their relationship with the Jewish state. No matter where they are when we begin our journey together, I hope they see Israel with their eyes and heart wide open, ready to learn, grow, and build a relationship to last a lifetime.
This Blog is part of a series on Taking Back the Z read them all!