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Finding the beauty of Israel

Student Voices

Photo for Finding the beauty of Israel

Valerie with classmates at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Valerie Braaten

Valerie Braaten traveled to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Fall 2015 to continue her dance studies thanks to the Mudie-Glaser Scholarship for Study.

It’s difficult to recall my initial perceptions of Israel when I first stepped off the plane in Tel Aviv; even more difficult to wrap my head around how this foreign and at times frightening land so quickly became my second home. Four months in Jerusalem flew by and now I am back at UCLA, profoundly changed yet finding difficulty in articulating to friends my genuineness when I state the cliché “Israel was life-changing”. A Nelson Mandela quote encompasses my experience of return: “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”

It took returning to my old environment to realize I am not the same Valerie. Of course there are the little things: My expectations of seeing stray cats at every turn, asking “?זה מה” and not understanding why no one acknowledges my question, my constant craving for Sufganiyot, etc. However, there are larger, more abstract changes within myself. They are harder to explain. My hope is through writing this I can at least brush the surface of how special Israel is to me.

Many of my friends have gone to Israel and returned sharing how Israel is the ideal place. They felt completely safe their whole trip and have nothing but unconditional praise for the country. This was not my experience. Israel is imperfect to me. Israel is not a fantasy land. Israel is much more because it is real. Terror and pain are felt at concentrated rates by the residents; terror and pain to extents I cannot relate to or fathom. However, there is a multifaceted beauty that seeps through moments of darkness in this land. This beauty has changed me. This beauty is why I love Israel.

Beauty can be seen in many different forms. There is beauty in the hospitality of the people. Countless times I was welcomed into strangers’ homes for Shabbat. I was even invited to a stranger’s wedding. After a bride-to-be witnessed her father and brother murdered, she decided to combat hate with love. The engaged couple sent an open invitation to everyone in Israel to attend their wedding ceremony. The guest list reached the thousands.

There is beauty in the small, daily interactions -- whether my taxi driver giving me free Hebrew lessons as he drives me home or the quick chats with workers within the Old City walls. For me, the most potent beauty was found within Israeli art, specifically dance. There is an air about the dancers in Israel that sets them apart from dancers anywhere else in the world. There is rawness in the emotional depth of their performances. I received the amazing opportunity to train in the Gaga dance language. Gaga, developed by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, emphasizes pleasure found through physical pain. This dance language has no doubt altered my perception of not only dance but also the way in which I hope to conduct my life. Gaga utilizes pain as a tool for creation. Eventually the pain subsides and all that remains is the beauty.

Valerie Braaten was a Dance major in the department of World Arts and Cultures, as well as a Music History & Music Industry double minor at UCLA. In the Fall of her senior year, Valerie had the opportunity to study dance, Hebrew, philosophy, and religion in Jerusalem. She participated in a dual program between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance for four months.