When I decided to study abroad in Israel, my parents were concerned about my safety. Actually, everyone was. I was regularly asked, “How do your parents feel?” and told, “Be safe, it’s dangerous over there!” I felt like I was hearing two stories: One from the typical American who has never been to Israel and has only heard negative stories from the media, and the other from my friends and teachers who have been to Israel and said everything would be fine. I didn’t know how to balance these stories when talking to my parents, but more than that, I didn’t know how to reconcile them personally. Was I making an unsafe decision? How could Israel be a safe place to live when it seemed they could never resolve issues with their volatile neighbors? I needed guidance navigating concerns about safety in Israel.
I remember driving with my mother and hearing her say that she knew God would protect me in Israel. I looked at her and said, “I don’t know that.”
I felt certain that God had called me to go to Israel, but I also knew that not everyone who follows God where he asks them to go gets a safe and easy life. I still feared that I might not be safe, that I might be caught in the midst of a Middle Eastern conflict I didn’t fully understand.
And yet, at the end of all these conversations, my parents and I came to the same conclusion—we had to trust God, not to necessarily always protect me from any harm, but to have a good plan for my life and to be with me where we believed He had called me to go. I decided to go not because I knew for certain that I would be safe, but because I believed it would be worth it.
Safe at home
When I finally arrived in Jerusalem, I was surprised to find that I felt almost immediately at home there. I was familiar with living in a world of religion and settled in easily to the atmosphere, and I found the city much easier to navigate than I expected. This, along with the evident preparedness of IFSA and the state of Israel as a whole if some threat were to arise, automatically gave me a sense of comfort and safety.
Of course, when rockets started falling in Tel Aviv, I was swept up in a sea of concerning news articles about how all the tensions could possibly blow up at a moment’s notice. Yet everyone around me continued to act as if everything was fine, and this caught me off guard. Were the rockets really not a big deal at all?
I began to realize that this is what Israelis live with every day—the knowledge that there are still forces that threaten their existence, and the only way to challenge these is to keep existing and living as if everything is normal. It is an act of defiance to continue to take risks and live boldly when you have a reason to be afraid. And it is this courage that I want to permeate my decisions, not just in coming to Israel, but as I continue to pursue my fullest life when I go home.
When my parents came to visit me in Jerusalem, they saw the change in me—not only the improved language skills and my ability to navigate this city with all its complicated dynamics, but also my increased humility and compassion, confidence, and independence. They began to experience the tensions I was experiencing, and yet they also saw how I was at home here and their feelings began to change.
My dad, who had been concerned at first when I decided to study abroad in Israel, said he had to “trust the process enough, and the organizations that are running this thing, that they know what they’re doing. [Now] having come out here to see you… thriving in your environment and understanding the city that you’re in and how to be cautious when that’s appropriate and where to go [to] enjoy your time here and learn a lot… [that] has been impressive.”
I’m still caught in the tension between sometimes feeling afraid and also feeling incredibly grateful to be here. I can’t imagine being anywhere else, and I don’t want to be. I can see myself in this city for much longer than a semester. I think my family has seen that I’ve found a place here in Israel and that I have learned how to navigate concerns about safety in Israel. I can negotiate the city of Jerusalem with confidence, and I know how to step into risky, uncomfortable places and learn from them. And I think they would agree with me now—being here in Jerusalem is worth it.
Tori Paquette was a Jewish Studies major at Colby College and studied abroad with IFSA at Rothberg International School at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel in spring 2019. She was an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.