Before my semester in Israel, I saw Israel as the setting of the Torah, the place where I could track my people’s ancient history. Then, at Johns Hopkins, where I became involved with the interfaith group on campus, I began to realize that Israel was much more multifaceted than I could ever imagine. As I studied International Relations, Jewish Studies, and Arabic, I armed myself with the tools to dig deeper and uncover other sides of Israel.
At the University of Haifa, where Muslims, Jews, Christians, Druze, Arabs and Israelis coexist together in peace, I developed close friendships with Israeli Jews and Arabs. In our conversations, we continuously returned to the meaning of democracy within a Jewish state. It was a tense topic, and increasingly so when compacted with the issue of love. I learned that it is during the marriage process, through interaction with the State rabbinate, that most Israelis first personally confront the issues that a Jewish democracy poses.
Exploring this topic with different people, I witnessed an endless passion for discussing the complicated nature of the State. Though not a cinematographer, I knew that the only way to highlight the intensity of this emphatic debate was through film. I had never before taken a film class, but decided to set out for the Haifa mall to purchase film equipment and began asking people about their views on democracy in a Jewish state – on camera.
These diverse interviews—which featured Israeli Jews with different backgrounds and beliefs—evolved into the seeds of a documentary, Faces of Israel. Praised and endorsed by a wide spectrum of Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Basil Herring from the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbi Gordon Tucker from the Masorti movement, Rabbi David Ellenson from Hebrew Union College and Blu Greenberg from the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, the film was released in 2009 in Riverdale. Now, it is being screened nationwide.
Classically, college exposes young adults to new and complicated viewpoints that are difficult to synthesize. By spending a semester abroad with Masa Israel at the University of Haifa, I was able to find ground for my new ideas to flourish. Since then, my understanding of Israel and my connection to Israel have deepened and matured.