Embracing Our Nation as We Are: Alone but Never Lonely

By: Chloe Baker  |  July 1, 2024

By Chloe Baker, Senior Opinions Editor

In 1953, David Ben-Gurion produced Israel’s National Security Doctrine, a document commonly referenced by its government till this day. It outlines the Arab-Israeli conflict and discusses its different aspects, including diplomatic, territorial, militarial, ideological, national, and religious. In the doctrine, Ben-Gurion outlines the asymmetries between Israel and the Arabs. He goes in depth about the advantages the Arabs possess and discusses how he believes one of the asymmetries of the conflict is that Israel is a nation that dwells alone. 

For the midterm in my political science class, I had to respond to an essay prompt relating to this iconic doctrine. The exam took place shortly after the war in Israel broke out on October 7, and because of the brief outpouring of support from various politicians and countries, I decided to write my paper about how this asymmetry – that Israel stands alone and the Arabs have the majority of the global support – was no longer completely accurate. I did great on my paper, but seven months later, it’s ironic – if not embarrassing – to see my naivety. 

It’s true, Israel and the Jewish people as a whole are a nation that dwells alone, but we should never feel lonely because of it. 

Since Oct. 7, we as a people have exemplified strength and uniqueness, but I was especially impacted and inspired by it first hand two weeks ago when I went on a volunteer mission to Israel with the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Through the people I met and the experiences I had, I was reminded that our “aloneness” is not a burden, but rather a beacon that guides us forward and reminds us of the strength we find in each other, and in the enduring spirit of our people.  

As Jewish people, we were all brought into this world for a reason, and we all have a unique mission to fulfill. Similarly, we all have something to contribute to the current war effort. Whether that be serving in the IDF, protesting, rallying, lobbying, davening, or just being a proud Jew, all these parts add up to create a bigger picture. 

On one of our first days in Israel, we spent four hours at a farm on a moshav picking blueberries. While yes, I did feel a little useless under the hot sun, our boss Pablo, a resident of the moshav, explained that since all of the international workers left after the war, it has been extremely hard to keep up with all of the responsibilities, and that our group was a huge help. Later that day, our trip leader showed us a poem by Rachel Bluwstein entitled “To My Land.” In the poem, she expresses how her contributions to her land were modest; she has not glorified the land through acts of “heroism,” but rather, by planting a tree. Her relationship to the land isn’t one of grand actions or achievements, but her efforts and contributions are treasured. My group’s morning of service picking blueberries realistically did not make a drastic change, but it made life easier for one moshav. This action created a ripple effect, fostering other kind actions and service, which will continue to lead to a positive difference. Such is the same with world Jewry; when each of us do our part and know that we are valuable, we contribute to something greater than ourselves.  

For a couple of days we stayed at Kibbutz Mashabei Sade. On one of those nights we hosted a barbeque dinner and bonfire for reservists. Most of them were college aged and were in school before Oct. 7 (one was even a practicing lawyer). As we sat around the bonfire we heard harrowing stories from them as they spoke about what it was like to rapidly go back to the army after Oct. 7. Many of the soldiers who ate with us served in Gaza and saw terrible things on Oct. 7. Yet, after hearing from them and what they have been through as a result of this ongoing war, the first thing they were concerned with was how we – college students and Jews in America – were coping with it all. They wanted to know the details: had any of us been attacked? Had we experienced encampments? Did we have friends and family serving in the army, hurt or killed on Oct. 7? 

I was so taken back by this because these soldiers don’t need to feel this way about us. They don’t need to thank us for being in Israel and coming to help, rather we need to be the ones thanking them for their service and for putting their lives on the line and on hold for the Jewish nation. It was truly beautiful to see this mutual concern we all had for each other. Although we live miles apart and had only known each other for two hours, that didn’t matter. We were all concerned with each other’s well-being. We love each other because we are one. 

The next day we visited the Nova Music Festival site. As an avid media consumer, and someone who visited the Nova exhibition in New York twice, I felt a little bit desensitized to everything going on. I have seen almost every video, heard countless testimonies, and saw the artifacts brought to America firsthand. I try not to put expectations on my emotions, but I wasn’t sure how I would react or if I would cry. However, I can confidently say that nothing prepares you, not even an experience at the graphic exhibition, for visiting the sight where it really happened. I got off the bus and started to walk around on my own and immediately my eyes welled up with tears. What caught me the most, more than the hundreds of memorials, was just how barren it was. We’ve all seen the videos of festival attendees frantically running through desert fields trying to save themselves with nowhere to go: but this time it was right in front of me. 

There was truly nowhere for these people to go. 

I stood there looking into these barren fields and contemplating that reality. Finally, I mustered up the courage to start walking through the area with memorials. I passed by some (what are now) familiar faces of hostages or festival goers, spending time at their memorials, thinking of them as the sound of bombs echoed in the close distance. As I walked around the sea of memorials, I stumbled across a woman who was collecting Tzedakah (charity). She was standing by the memorial of her son, Nissim, a kind looking young man with a bright smile. She explained that she was collecting Tzedakah to write a new Sefer Torah in his memory. In his picture, Nissim is covered in tattoos, but his mother explained that he loved Rabbi Nachman and chassidus. This left a mark powerful on me. It further contributed to my understanding that we all, regardless of level of observance, affiliation, religious labeling, etc., have a strong connection to Hashem that is uniquely ours. You can be covered in tattoos and an enthusiastic Torah learner. 

At the same time, I thought about how daunting this must have been for his mother. Having to return to one of the darkest places in our history as Jews, but also a dark place in her own personal history. The place where her son was taken from her. Yet, she returned to bring more light into the world. This speaks volumes of the strength of our people. 

After visiting Nova, Ofakim and various other sights, we ended the night at a base down south, where on Oct. 7, ten out of the twelve soldiers on base were murdered. Some were even younger than I am. We had a barbeque dinner with active-duty soldiers and then attended a concert put on by the Special in Uniform unit band. This unit is designed for soldiers who have various special needs. Immediately, when I walked on base, I was greeted by a band member, who enthusiastically welcomed me to his concert and proudly stated, “I am in the IDF and I save lives here.” I will never forget the pure happiness that radiated from his demeanor. 

The band sang Israeli classics and wartime songs as we all danced together and cheered for them. Witnessing these two total opposite realities in the span of a few hours was overwhelming, but it was also extremely impactful and a feeling I hope I never forget. After all the buildup over the past eight months, I finally saw the Nova festival with my own eyes, visited Ofakim and  saw the pure evil that human beings are capable of. But then I stood there listening to uplifting songs sung by some of the happiest people I have ever encountered. Going from extreme darkness to blinding light. I felt like I was finally experiencing what the Nova slogan “We will dance again” actually means. Here I was on a base that lost soldiers, in a region of Israel that has suffered the most, yet at a joy filled concert put on entirely by people with special needs. Hamas abuses and kills people with special needs, but in Israel, we have a unit in our army that was created for them. We value everyone and lift them up. We recognize that everyone has a purpose to fulfill and was put in this world for a reason, and we use the tools that we have to make space for all to shine. There is room for everyone in the Jewish nation. 

For three out of the seven days on this mission we were stationed at a village called Tzohar, tasked with rebuilding it after its residents were displaced for seven months since Oct. 7. Only now are they being welcomed back to their homes. On the second day, some girls and I were given the job of repainting the outside walls of the kindergarten. It was hot and we had been painting for a while when it was time for song time in the classroom. Because of the thin walls, we could hear everything. Suddenly the teacher put on a song and all of the kids started to sing and dance really loudly. The song was “Am Israel Chai” by Eyal Golan. This was extremely touching to witness as I thought about all of the hardships that these kids have faced. Losing family or friends, having parents in reserve duty, being displaced for months at a time, repeatedly running to bomb shelters and more. To hear them singing their hearts out in their classroom was transformative for me, because it exemplified the resilient nature that we as Jews have. It was a moment where I thought to myself, “we are not going anywhere.” We will always have Israel and we will live.

My trip to Israel post-war taught me a lot of things. It reminded me that I am part of a nation where everyone has something to contribute, there is mutual care for one another, we combat darkness with light, and we include and lift up those who are different from us. Most importantly, it taught me that our perceived isolation isn’t a disadvantage. Ben-Gurion may have been correct in saying that we dwell alone, but we can be okay with it. Our unique position allows us to draw strength from within, to build an unbreakable bond amongst our nation. 

We stand alone, yet we are never lonely because our unity and resilience are what keeps us afloat. We have each other, and in this solidarity is where we find our greatest strength. 

Photo Caption: A mural in Ofakim titled “City of Heroes,” made by Arad Levy and Elad Mazmer 

Photo Credit: Chloe Baker