Thanksgiving has many aspects of sacrifice in it in its traditional story. One example is the self-sacrifice of the Pilgrims in search of a better place to live and raise their family. They put their lives on the line in an attempt to better the lives of themselves and their families. The Native-Americans, also, sacrificed in many ways in order to accept the newcomers. They sacrificed time and resources to give to these strangers.
For years, we Americans have used this (albeit extremely simplified) narrative to teach our children about giving thanks to those around us. To recognize those who have given up so much so that we can live the way we live today.
There are many things or people we’d all quickly give some time or energy to, but there’s a limit to how much we can give to everyone. On the other hands, there are other things or people that you are so emotionally invested in that the resources you’re willing to sacrifice are almost infinite. You’d quite literally stop at nothing for the betterment of these things.
I have two things like that in my life: my nephew, Miles, and my country, Israel.
I remember being on the plane to New York for the brit milah (ritual circumcision) of my first (and only) nephew. I remember thinking to myself that I live so far away and I won’t know him. Thinking that aside from genetically, I have no connection to him. He can’t talk yet so how is it possible to keep-up, let alone create, a relationship?
Those were the questions running through my head on the flight. I assumed I would go home, enjoy seeing and spending time with my family, give a little “nice to meet you” to the new kid, and head back home to Israel.
I was really wrong.
I still don’t understand it, and I’m sure many poets have explained it better than I can, but I just fell in love with that kid. Hard.
As soon as I get to New York is I get on a train to see Miles. Whenever I fly back, I think of him and question whether I should go back at all. When I missed his first birthday, I got choked up. The same thing happened for his second birthday and now again for his third just a couple of weeks ago.
The first diaper I’ve ever changed was Miles’ diaper. He was the first kid I’ve ever babysat for. He is the first person who can I stare at with a smile on my face as I watch him play with blocks or sleeping in his crib.
It’s not all smiling and giggling with him, though. He screams sometimes. He cries. He kicks me in the face when I’m getting him into pajamas and laughs at me as he does it. To be honest, he can be pretty damn annoying sometimes.
But obviously, I would do anything for him. Anything. I am so thankful for Miles. He opened me up to many emotions I never knew I had or can have and already has taught me so much.
Thank you, Miles.
And then there’s my country, Israel.
I’ve come to understand my love for Israel through my love for Miles, and vice versa.
What I’ve learned is that although I may not be able to explain my connection to Israel rationally, it’s something emotionally undeniable.
I’ve learned that although sometimes the object of love not only kicks me in the face and laughs, but does it as I’m trying to do what’s best for it. But I’ll keep going.
I’d give almost anything for my country. I’ve spent time lobbying American members of Congress for Israel. I did not go on my high school ski trip so I can attend the funeral of Israeli victims of terror. A friend and I drove down to Sderot during Operation Pillar of Defense to hand out food to Israelis in need, pulling over multiple times on the way down to lie on the pavement as rockets fell in all directions around us. I stood on street corners handing out flyers and debating with strangers for months before the elections. I put my life on hold for over three years to serve in the military.
I’ve donated money to organizations I believe in, arranged events for organizations I connect with, I’ve become hated by some, disliked by others, and verbally attacked by too many.
The list of both big and small sacrifices goes on and will only get longer. I sometimes feel just like Miles made me feel when he kicked my face and laughed at me while I was trying to do what was best for him.
But I’m proud of most things I’ve done and will continue it all because, well, I’d do anything for my country.
So in honor of Thanksgiving, thank you Israel. Thank you for being there. I’ve loved you for years, I’ve known you for longer, and you’ve taught me so much. You taught me about humanity, nationhood, weakness, power, good, evil, nuance, myself, and so much more.
I’m forever grateful.