For almost all of my adult life, I have shunned my Jewish heritage. I wanted to distance myself from Israel’s occupation of Palestine so vehemently that I hid from any connection to the religion or culture. This may have done more harm than good.

Ever since going on Birthright, I was so revolted by the treatment of Palestinians that I ran from any association with Israel. And my reactiveness made it difficult to have any dialogue on the topic. Every time I encountered somebody with even moderately different viewpoints, conversation quickly spiraled into argument. I was completely incapable of hearing the opinions of those with different views than me. It was more than unconstructive, it was alienating me from the Jewish community.

After spending nearly a decade running from the problem, I encountered a different approach to the conflict. When friends introduced me to IfNotNow I was skeptical. However, I couldn’t help but be impressed by IfNotNow’s methodology — “Focus on what unites us, not what divides us.” What an impressive philosophy in a topic so beleaguered by dividing viewpoints. It felt healing to retire belligerence in favor of unity.

IfNotNow protests the 50th anniversary of the occupation.

IfNotNow protests the 50th anniversary of the occupation.

More importantly, it was the first time I entered a Jewish space where I didn’t feel totally uncomfortable. I was shocked to learn that there are other Jews who had stayed silent on their faith or heritage for fear of being associated with the occupation. IfNotNow offered a space where Jews spoke with as much pride about being Jewish as they did with conviction for dismantling the occupation.

After spending so many years withdrawing from the Jewish community, I have a long way to go before I feel comfortable in this space. But at least now I know that there is a venue for me to engage in the quagmire in the Middle East. IfNotNow has opened the door for my Jewish heritage to fit within my values — as a Jewish voice for ending the occupation.