Noa Nir, 24, has two distinct identities: American Reform Jew and secular Israeli.
The first identity came from her work at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, beginning as a camp counselor and now as the Reform congregation’s development associate.
Living in Israel at various times throughout her childhood, including a two-year period during the second intifada, formed her Israeli identity.
While the two are difficult to reconcile, the Arlington resident says, the experiences have shaped her career path and how she views Israel today.
What was it like to be a child living in Israel during the second intifada?
My memories are a little mixed, and so my feelings are a little mixed. On the one hand, I was getting to know a family that I hadn’t really met before. I was able to spend some quality time with my grandparents, who took care of me and my sister daily. I was friends with girls whose family had made aliyah, so I was able to speak English with them and really feel like I had some close friendships.
But on the other hand, it was confusing to a young child to be in such a volatile environment. We lived in Jerusalem, which was the center of the conflict at the time.
I went to a school near east Jerusalem that was on this corridor that was nicknamed “suicide alley” because that is where the suicide bombers would blow themselves up.
How has living in Israel influenced your career?
Being both an Israeli American and strongly identified as Jewish American, there is some urgency to establish a connection [to Israel]. Working at organizations that have an interest in Israel is important to me on a personal level. With my internships [at the Embassy of Israel and Just Vision, a nonprofit organization that advocates Palestinian and Israeli rights,] I definitely had my family in mind. What situation would be best for them? What would be the soundest resolution to the conflict? What would benefit them the most? It stems from this very complicated love. This very complicated emotional relationship with this country, and a desire to understand it better because when I was a child, it was hard for me to understand.
What has drawn you to Reform Judaism?
The politics really appealed to me, but my involvement with [Temple Rodef Shalom] on a professional level led to me becoming involved on a spiritual level. When I returned here in a professional aspect last month, I really felt like I had arrived spiritually, as well. There’s a sense of home here, of community, after some very transient formative years. There’s a feeling here of permanence and family.
You describe your family as a secular, but are deeply involved in American-Jewish life. How do those two identities mix?
I think it’s really hard to reconcile my Israeli identity with my American-Jewish identity in the sense that my American-Jewish identity is so tied to the Reform [movement] and my Israeli identity is very secular. Religion doesn’t play a part in that [identity], but as I get older I’m really trying to connect the two.
What is one way you’ve managed to connect them?
My knowledge of Hebrew is a real bridge. The fact I was able to cultivate my Hebrew [in Israel], come back here and have that knowledge and be able to teach people that knowledge was really important to me.
My grandfather was a linguistics professor at Hebrew University and I feel like in a way, I carry on his legacy here by speaking Hebrew with the people who are visiting from Israel and am returning to my roots in that way. n
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