We are all flying back from Israel with heads swimming and more thoughts than we can possibly sort out in a 594-word blog, but here are some of mine:

Zionism is arguably as (if not more) relevant today than it was in 1905.  The new Zionists are largely young Israeli 20-somethings with vision to change educational and social systems, protect our lands, change the way we use energy, technology, agriculture – you name it – and their passion is contagious.

Be careful what you believe, and understand that ugliness exists on both sides of our divide.  And expect to change your mind a lot, depending on who you speak to.  Not all Palestinians live in conditions as we see them through mainstream media.  Granted, in areas or settlements like Hebron it is very different, but in Ramallah for example, I was truly surprised to see a ‘refugee camp’ which really looked like a decent set of apartment blocks.  And touring Rawabi, the first master planned development in Palestine for 40K residents (complete with a huge public green space, amphitheater, schools, and a Mamila-like pedestrian shopping area) there is a tangible sense of hope for a vastly improved quality of life.

The apathetic among us may cause the most damage to the democratic process.  During one of our tours, a young man named Zohar showed us around an educator’s kibbutz, which works largely with at-risk youth from underserved communities, and exists right up against a large Arab town.  Someone asked him about local racial tensions and attitudes, specifically the Arabs towards the Israeli Jews.  He said simply that the issue today is not between Arab and Jew, it is between those who want peace, and those who don’t.  It occurred to me on the bus ride back to Tel Aviv, however, that the far more dangerous group of people doesn’t care either way, and doesn’t get involved or form an opinion.  We must care, and we must speak openly, even if it means we won’t always agree with our neighbors.

Take whatever it is that makes you ‘shake’ and find a way to express your Judaism through it.  This is a paraphrase from Asya, one of the “Russian Speaking Jews” we met, who has found a way to be a feminist, talk show host, Russian, Israeli and a Jew, all while being first and foremost true to herself.  She pushes back against those who try to judge the ‘authenticity’ of non-Orthodox Jewish expressions in practice, life, art, etc.  As a Jew-by-choice who is always searching to authenticate her own Jewish identity, I can relate.  

As I fly over the Atlantic, closer and closer to hugging my children back home, I will end with this…  If you ever want to feel like a real slacker (and I am very cognizant of the fact that my audience here would generally be considered anything but), spend a week touring Israel with Wexner and meeting with people that are changing the world in the very truest of ways – by recycling 82% of the State’s water, by designing braces and crutches that allow paralyzed people to walk, by spending a few months as teenagers rebuilding houses in poor areas before heading off to the military…  It is humbling and inspiring in equal measure. 

So now that many of us have ended this part of the Wexner journey I ask you: 

What makes you shake?  What issues burn through you?  What are you doing about it?

Vanessa Ressler lives in Miami Beach with her husband and growing family of girls.  What makes her shake?  Creating open and inclusive Jewish communities, redefining what it means to be ‘affiliated,’ keeping arts/cultural education in our schools, combatting apathy towards social change. Vanessa can be reached at vanessaressler@me.com.