In Israel, I had no immediate family, no meaningful experience of the culture, society or language, a small social network and barely a professional network. Very few jobs in Israel would provide me the same salary as what I was making in New York, and moving to Israel would mean starting largely from scratch in a foreign language.
In America, on the other hand, I had a loving family in Silver Spring, a job at a leading consulting firm and living arrangements in New York sponsored by the firm. I had access to the best resources, strong social networks at work and in the Jewish community, and great prospects personally and professionally for the future.
And yet, something so much deeper drew me to Israel. It stemmed from my deep sense of Jewish identity and my Zionist upbringing, from my community at Kemp Mill Synagogue, elementary years at Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, high school at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and time spent at University of Maryland’s Hillel. I grew up learning about how the Jewish people and our identity grew out of our relationship with Israel. I learned how in Israel our people shaped and defended our national and religious identity and sacrificed so much to pass it on to the next generations. I also came to understand how the re-establishment of Israel gave the Jewish people the chance to once again live and develop the land that characterized our identity and our tradition.
I made my first trip to Israel with the Zionist youth organization Bnei Akiva at age 15, and by 19, I had visited five times. With each trip, I found myself more intensely compelled to participate in the Jewish story and to build a future in the land that so characterized our past. It became clearer to me that a Jew in Israel is like a painter with paint, a ballerina on the stage, an athlete in their arena. As a Jew in Israel, I can express my Jewishness in the most complete and comfortable way.
Despite the reasons not to go, a sense of responsibility characterized my feelings. I felt that coming to Israel and participating in our national future surpassed considerations about “professional stability” and “making money” in America, because I had a responsibility to build a closer relationship with the people and land of Israel. The feeling pushed me to search for a way to integrate into Israel and contribute to its future within a framework that made sense to me.
Ultimately, I had the incredible opportunity to transfer from Deloitte America to Deloitte Israel, which provided a foundation and the ability to start realizing my dream. At first, I thought that life would be nearly identical to America with a different language. I figured that my work and its culture would probably operate similarly, that my life at home would be surrounded with English-speakers, and that my day-to-day life would not differ much from that in America. I could not have predicted the differences and how my connection with Israel would strengthen as a result of them.
Most remarkably, I have found that people in Israel have much warmer, deeper relationships than I expected from my experience in America, and it influences all parts of life. People in Israel tend to have more chutzpah, interrupt more, criticize more, ask more personal questions and have open, giving, collaborative personalities, which I’ve learned stems from a sense that people are connected more personally.
I have found that people in Israel often have multi-dimensional relationships with their colleagues that sometimes feel more familial than collegial. They often enjoy more overlapping connections. They engage in more intense debates, and regularly offer advice. They also give more compliments, more hugs, discuss their families more frequently, and attend the simchas of their colleagues more commonly. Work conversations in Israel take on a more genuine, connected feeling that I did not predict.
Social interactions have the same genuineness. Because people in Israel often have a strong sense of their identity, they more comfortably create spaces to express their interests. They want to connect and they do, very personally. I have found that people in Israel meet each other more and organize themselves better socially than in America.
My journey began with Zionism, yet my relationship with Israel continues to deepen as I experience more aspects of the people and the country. Now, Zionism only makes up the background to my sense of belonging, and the relationships I have made foster a deep sense of connectedness and belonging. The feelings stem from many places with a prevalence and importance that I did not foresee. This sense of belonging wraps itself into every part of everyday life and enhances my experiences with more positive consequences than I could ever have imagined.
Jacob Silvermetz grew up in Silver Spring, graduated from the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and the University of Maryland at College Park, made aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh in 2012, and now lives in Rehovot, Israel, with his wife. Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Washington area Aliyah Fair will take place March 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. For more information, visit http://tinyurl.com/gwmwzr2.