a picturesque residential street
Zichron Yaakoz, Israel, where Max Bamberger and his family moved from Berkeley (Photo/Flickr user StateofIsrael CC BY-SA 2.0)

Moving to Israel taught me 3 big lessons

During the summer of 2015, just before I entered seventh grade, my parents brought my four siblings and I to a new country: Israel.

I didn’t know what to expect or how I would feel in this new environment.  Many things are different here: the language, the way people interact with one another and the entire culture.

My experiences over the past two years have changed me in more ways than I can describe, but three things about me have changed most significantly: my connection to the natural world, my attitude toward giving up and learning to think before I speak.

Firstly, I developed a strong bond to the land.

Americans love their nation, but in general they do not feel spiritually connected to the land on which it was built. In Israel, residents of many religions feel that their home is also their holy land. In the U.S., I hated hiking. Hated it. Walking aimlessly, seemed, well, aimless. And the bugs. I’ve never liked bugs.

In Israel, however, we go on school trips almost weekly, and learn the history of our destinations through the words of the Bible. While I still don’t love hiking, I feel very grateful to the land both in Israel and the rest of the world that supports and sustains me.

Living in Israel also taught me not to give up, and to take responsibility for opening life’s doors.

Commitment and determination were not my strongest traits before I moved. I mostly stayed in my comfort zone, and rarely tried new things that required lots of grit. I soon realized that life’s doors had been wide open for me in a small Jewish private school in Oakland, but it felt like many of those doors were slammed shut in Israel. There was no advanced math at my new school, and I felt I couldn’t progress in a language I barely understood.

Living in Israel also taught me not to give up, and to take responsibility for opening life’s doors.

However, I soon discovered that Israel’s closed doors could be opened with some work. We set up online lessons during the scheduled math period, and then found a great Israeli math program in a city an hour away.

I worked very hard to speak in Hebrew as much as possible, however funny my accent sounded.  Later in the year, after my bar mitzvah in April, I committed myself to put on tefillin every morning during the Shacharit service.  On school days, we did this as a class, but on free days I took it upon myself to pray in a group or alone. Stick-to-it-iveness is still a quality I am working on, but I am glad to have begun pushing (and when it comes to it, kicking) open life’s doors.

Finally, living in Israel taught me to think before I speak.

Don’t get me wrong, I did not learn this from my peers. Israelis are known to blurt out anything that comes to mind.

No, I learned this skill by planning and re-planning every sentence I spoke in my new language. Sometimes I was forced to think about my words until there was no longer an opportunity to share them. However, this challenge helped me realize how little I thought before speaking when talking in English. I have turned this linguistic obstacle into an effort to choose my words carefully and make the most of time and others’ attention.

In conclusion, the challenge of living in a new country forced into me qualities that I otherwise wouldn’t have today.  The experience of moving to Israel definitely shaped my life in ways I didn’t anticipate. I grew a connection to the land, learned to keep pushing forward and became more thoughtful about my speech.

Many times the most challenging experiences shape us in the best ways.

Max Bamberger
Max Bamberger

Max Bamberger is 14, lives in Berkeley and is in ninth grade at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco.