About two months ago, I decided to write a letter to the man who caused my 15-year absence from Israel. After much debate within myself (and researching him), I decided to not deliver it. However, I did want to share it before I let it go as a new memory is about to take its place.
This letter has been almost 15 years in the making. You have probably since forgotten about that summer, about me and about the sins that you committed against four teenagers, where you exploited their weaknesses and used them to your advantage. I cannot forget. In order to save your own skin, you set mine on fire. And I am still burned so many years later.
On July 16, 1999, you exiled me from the Holy Land by kicking us off your Israel program. Don’t pretend you didn’t, because there were plenty of witnesses who saw that you had no reason other than the fact that I was considered to be “difficult.” I know exactly why you did it, and it was downright sickening and wrong. I wasn’t the only one in that weekend. There were three others: Zev, Heather and Eve. Their stories were different than mine: A clown of a boy who no one would look at twice at if he were kicked out, a girl suffering from anorexia and another whose grandmother was dying. Then there was me, who opened my mouth and stood up to you, seeing through your lies about what happened. We were so easy to pick off, and you took advantage of this.
As I came home, I found out the truth from the people who knew you: Your program was in serious debt and you hadn’t budgeted correctly. It made sense looking at the time we were kicked out: We had spent almost two weeks in the desert, cheaply stocked away in a place that probably didn’t cost much. The rest of the schedule was expensive; one of my friends who was on my trip actually calculated the cost and realized how over budget you were — about $3,000 per kid.
You evaded your responsibility in this incident. In your cowardice, you fled the United States and now live in a land that I have been striving to get back to for 15 years. Due to potential legal ramifications, I couldn’t reveal publicly what you did; I spent years having pretend that my Israel trip was 100 percent meaningful when it truth it was packed full of your falsities and my heartache. I lied, and hated myself for it.
Because of your actions, my exile was much longer than it should have been. In college, I was not able to qualify to go on Birthright, and no matter how much I pled to the organization, there was no forgiveness for me for your sins. My friends told me to lie and said I had never been in order to return. I refused; lies forced me away from Israel and I wouldn’t use them to get back in. That is one of the numerous differences between you and I.
We know your evils, but there is a lot that has happened in the 15 years since I left. For better or worse, you made me into a woman and the person I am today.
Eleven months to the day after I left, I delivered my high school graduation speech to a standing ovation, with 3,000 people witnessing my triumph. When it was time to go to college, I didn’t slack off but rather buckled down and worked hard. I received multiple awards for my journalism work, lived in Washington D.C. as an intern and have worked for American magazines and media companies. My projects have been featured on the Huffington Post and other major media sites.
My road has not always been smooth sailing. At 21 I almost died from five blood clots, three of which were in my right lung. At 29 I fled an abusive marriage. I have gone hungry several times and the economy has been rough on my industry. Life is never easy, and with many of the things I have been through, I’m amazed that I am still alive and somewhat sane (well, as sane as someone like me could ever be).
But in my difficulties lies the differences between you and me: In my struggles, I climbed mountains, but instead of stepping on the other hikers and putting them in jeopardy to get to the top, I focused on my own climb and would never give up until I reached the summit. I wouldn’t cheat to get there, wouldn’t take the easy way and would never stop fighting nor back down from anything that was thrown at me. I cried numerous times, but kept moving forward and remain confident in my decisions.
For years, I have been harboring the utmost anger towards you. It doesn’t seem right or natural to hold on to it for this long, but let’s face it: You took advantage of children who were supposed to trust you (despite the fact we were very close to adulthood and may not have looked it, we were still technically children). You were a thief and a trickster. You took away my innocence and any naivete I had about people having good intentions. Instead of facing your problems like a man, you ran and moved halfway across the world. You got to have Israel completely while when I would try to go, I kept hearing, “No.” The futility I faced was enraging, and you were one of the causes of it.
You may have the Holy Land, but I have something better. On that fateful day I left, I got a beautiful gift: Eve and I are still friends after all these years. In the weeks after she came back to the states, we talked day in and day out. We sang together and were at each other’s weddings. While driving cross-country almost four years ago, my friend and I stayed at her house in Missouri. I spoke with her last week and put her note into the Kotel immediately after I arrived. In all the years we have been friends, she taught me to say, “I love you.” I could have remained so jaded because of you, but Eve made sure to keep my heart open. I received pure love to heal the wounds you left. There is no greater medicine.
I don’t want to excuse your sins; you did awful things and you should remember that. But I don’t know if I would be the person who I would be today had what you done never happened. You made me become a more ethical human being, a woman who understands that standing up for the right thing often comes with a huge ticket price, but you come through it and life moves forward. My emotional strength increased and I was inspired to become a better person because I never wanted to be like you.
I love and admire the woman I have become — a woman who faced domestic violence and instead of pretending it never happened, poured herself into an organization like NA’AMAT USA to help others; a woman who was supposed to die at a young age, yet keeps breathing in rebellion; a woman who should have grown to hate Israel from your actions, yet still loves this country. It took 15 years to become this person, but it started at a source. It started here, and it started with you.
Over the next two weeks, I am visiting my friends throughout the country, from Haifa to Tel Aviv. I am going to Yad V’Shem, seeing the mystics in Tsfat, hugging those I love tightly and making new friends along the way. I am reclaiming what you stole. You no longer have power over me.
One of the lame excuses you used to send me away was, “You can take care of yourself, but we can’t take care of you.” Now, 15 years later, I see that’s entirely right; you could never take care of me. After all, why would you entrust a fool with the sun? He would lose it, and then in turn miss seeing it sparkle and shine and give light to the world around it. That is what I have the opportunity to do. And I will never stop.
Consider this your reminder and my peace. I’m trying my best to forgive you, but I will never forget your spinelessness. You are not absolved, but at least now I have found a way out of my exile and am stepping into the light without you dogging my steps. Just thought you should know.