I was 13, when a boy on the school bus yelled “you’re a Jew, I’m gonna gas you” and proceeded to spray deodorant on my face. Strangers on the streets of South London have demanded to know why the State of Israel exists. And even good friends have introduced me as their “Jewish friend, Beth.”
Being Jewish in England isn’t always easy, but the hatred and prejudice I’ve encountered has only driven me to discover even greater conviction in my identity. That’s why I’m spending ten months in Israel with Masa Israel Teaching Fellows (MITF).
These past few years, I’ve been exploring who I am — and how to harmonize the intersecting aspects parts of my identity. What does Judaism mean to me? How do I reconcile my experience growing up Orthodox and my identity as a lesbian? What makes me unique compared to my twin sister? How does my perception of myself change the way that I relate to the people and world around me? Though I’ve made labored progress, I have yet to continue evolving and growing.
At some point, I knew I had come as far as I could in England. To gain clarity, I needed to embark on a journey—away from my family, my hometown, and the memories. I chose Israel because it is thousands of kilometers away, yet, as a Jew, it still feels like home.
In the epicenter of the worldwide Jewish community, I am immersing myself in world Jewry’s wonderful diversity of ethnicities, practices and beliefs. I am learning what it means to be Jewish not just in England, but in the variegated facets of the broader global experience. And through witnessing the full scope of this group that I’m part of, I am finding my own place within it.
In Israel, I have found the sense of belonging I crave—simply because I am Jewish. In this atmosphere of support and acceptance, free from subconscious fear of antisemitism, I can shuck off my protective inhibitions and continue to explore who I am. I can forge my spiritual path by extracting the underlying values that guide our nation—like friendship or kindness—from the stories in the Torah, and learning how to embody these principles in my life.
But MITF is not only a path for my personal development, it’s an opportunity to shape other lives as well. On this journey of self-discovery, I will help empower Israel’s youth along the way. I will teach them English, a skill that will open doors for them in the future. More importantly, I hope to teach them kindness, compassion, and self-respect—values that will serve them well as they each grow up to discover their own paths. One of the most important lessons I can impress upon my students is to be confident about themselves. As I learn to be true to myself, I’m teaching them to do the same.
And when I return to England, as a more evolved and settled Beth, I’ll be able to face my tormentors proudly, because of the strength Israel provides me. I belong to a nation with rich heritage, secured by an ancestral homeland I can visit anytime I need to replenish my conviction that I’m not an outsider, but a contributing member of a family.
Beth K. is a 2019-2020 Masa Israel Teaching Fellow, teaching in Netanya as part of the Israel Experience programs.