I just returned from Israel where I ate, prayed, fell in love with 50 of the world’s most beautiful souls. I was there as part of Reality Israel, an initiative created by the Schusterman Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization whose mission is nothing less than to repair the world. The purpose of the trip is to bring changemakers to the always awe-inspiring, sometimes heartbreaking, country of Israel so that they can learn about the vibrant, complicated region, then take that knowledge, and apply it to other communities in order to make our world a better place.
I can’t speak for the other participants, but I can say that for me, the journey was nothing short of transformative and life-affirming. On the eight-day odyssey, I not only made friends and got to know myself better, I also deepened my understanding of the complexities in the region, learned about Israel’s history, and re-committed to the purpose God placed in my heart long ago: to help people.
Before I embarked on the trip, I set my intention to listen to others and understand what I was seeing, hearing and feeling. What I heard has changed my life and my outlook.
While herding goats, I heard that we need to take care of ourselves, to be well so that we can enthusiastically lead others.
While building and sailing a raft, I heard, “don’t be so competitive—sometimes the winners don’t ‘take all.’” Instead of competing, try to listen and understand these new people entering your life.
Crossing through the Israeli countryside and seeing the most sacred elements of nature God created, I heard my hosts and my fellow travelers, and I felt my heart reopening to the kind of innocent love I felt as a child.
I listened to an Ethiopian vocalist sing, an activist talk about Palestinian Trap music, and my tablemates pray as I participated in my first Shabbat dinner, and I heard the importance of building community through different cultures.
I also listened to the stories of the 50 global leaders on the trip, the tour guides, and organized speakers, including one of the last few Holocaust survivors. I heard stories of trauma, evil, oppression, and conflict, but also of forgiveness, privilege, love, compassion, empathy, understanding, resilience, and peace.
As the daughter of an Imam growing up in a devout Muslim household, I heard the synergies between the three religions while having dinner with a Christian and a Jewish woman.
Finally, as I walked through the desert praying on our last night in Israel, I heard the words God whispered: “We are ONE.”
Through all of these experiences, I heard that each of us holds multiple experiences which build into our personal truths. As human beings, I believe it is our personal responsibility to listen rather than to shut down other people’s experiences when they make us uncomfortable or don’t mirror our own lives.
I wish everyone could participate in a trip like Reality Israel. But I have to come to realize that you don’t have to travel to the Holy Land to learn these truths. We just have to look for the holiness within ourselves and each other.
Wherever we are, we can expand our consciousness by meeting people where they are and working to understand the experiences that created their personal truths. As we work to create that understanding, we must also push ourselves to examine how the truths we hold dear impact the systems that govern our lives. Personally, on the trip, I found myself asking, does it make sense to argue or discount the story of a Palestinian’s woman recount of oppression and murder? And I found I had my answer: It’s important to recognize my feelings, but also to recognize the facts and the truths of systems in which people are marginalized, as uncomfortable as that may make me.
We think we have come so far, and in many ways, we have. But this trip made me realize that in Israel, and in the world over, we are still evolving, and we still have equally far to go. People are still becoming the first woman to perform a task, the first person of a given race to receive an honor. All over the world, human beings are still suffering. And wherever we are, it is our duty to help alleviate their pain.
I left Israel with a sense of duty and a sense of hope. Together, we have an opportunity to lead with grace, to create spaces where narratives that are different from our perspectives are shared and truly heard. We can strive to uplift those narratives along with our own and change the dynamics of systems that promote injustice and improve our world.
Instead of focusing on making our own corner of the globe great “again,” we need to expand our understanding of what constitutes our world. We must listen to the voice that whispered in the desert, and understand that we are all neighbors. Then we will make our entire world not great again, but great at last.