Tamar Gavrilov – Personal Essay

It was 2005 and I was a sixteen-year-old high school student at a local Jewish Orthodox yeshiva in Brooklyn, NY. At the time, I knew little about Israeli politics or Zionism on any practical level. I was the child of an immigrant family that had fled the Dagestan Republic of Russia, a land that my ancestors had considered home for many centuries, and which would time and time again turn on them simply for their Jewish identity. After years of rampant anti-Semitism, this traitorous land could never again be our home or our homeland. Though the United States, a country filled with many opportunities and freedoms, for which we are eternally grateful, would become our new home, Israel would quickly take its rightful place as our forever homeland.

As a kid, all I really knew was that I loved this faraway land and I didn’t want to question that love. Then, in the summer of 2005, the roots of this childhood commitment were shaken when thousands of residents of Gush Katif, a bloc of 17 Israeli settlements in the southern Gaza strip, were forcibly evacuated out of their homes. I can still vividly remember sitting in my high school auditorium, watching video footage of the evacuation, and feeling a deep sense of shock, agony, and helplessness.

Needing to act, I ran for a leadership position on my school’s Jewish Affairs Committee, which engaged students in becoming involved and committed to the needs of Jews around the world. During my tenure as Committee Director, I organized local fundraisers to raise money for displaced former residents of Gush Katif, ran large telephone campaigns appealing for clemency on behalf of Jonathon Pollard, and protested outside the United Nations during a speech made by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Granted, I didn’t move any political mountains, but Zionism would never again mean to me the mere political support or love for Israel. Zionism suddenly metamorphosed into a sensation of personal responsibility, as both a Jew and a citizen of the world, that I continue to carry with me today.

Since then, whether while serving as Vice-President of the Hebrew Culture Club at Baruch College, or skydiving for the Zionist Organization of America’s “Jump for Israel,” fundraiser, or spending my final winter break of law school studying in Jerusalem, I have actively advocated for Israel and the Jewish community. In April 2014, I helped my former law school professor, Professor William Jacobson, fight and effectively shutdown the “Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions” movement on Cornell University’s campus. Just a few weeks ago, I organized a skydiving fundraiser, for which I partnered with various Zionist organizations, including the Israel Forever Foundation, the Zionist Organization of America, Roots NY, and the Endowment for Middle East Trust, to help raise awareness and funds for the #BringBackOurBoys campaign.1 This September, I will begin my term as a Foreign Law Clerk at the Supreme Court of Israel, while simultaneously participating in the Career Israel program, where I can finally combine my professional interests and skills, with my devotion to Israel advocacy.

To me Zionism is the active membership in the worldwide Jewish society. Though admission into this community brings genuine gratification, it also comes with a great responsibility – the responsibility to think, do, and act for a homeland we not only want, but also need. Zionism today represents the combination of the love, devotion, and active participation necessary to guarantee the Zionism of tomorrow.