Oct 5, 2021  By Akiva Gersh  Category: Education,

A Native American Chief & an African Shaman Awakened My Judaism

***Akiva Gersh will be hosting a Conversations on Zionism Masterclass on October 26, 2021 at 7:30pm ET! Register at jnf.org/convos ***

I became a Zionist with the help of a Native American chief and an African shaman.

Allow me to explain.

Growing up, I had a relatively weak connection with Judaism and the Jewish people. With Israel I had no connection at all. When I entered college I was ready to give up the little Jewish connection I had left in search of something more spiritual and universal.

At some point in my search, I met a Native American chief in British Columbia. His connection to his tradition, his people, and his land deeply impressed and inspired me. After we spoke at length about his ancient culture and customs, he turned to me and said, "And what about you? Where do you come from? Where are your people from? How did they live in the past?"

Those questions hit me like a sledgehammer as I realized I knew more about his people than I did about my own.

The next person who entered my life at that time was an African shaman. I never met him in person but I read a book he wrote about his own life journey and story. Throughout the book he repeated his main thesis: that all of the problems of our world are rooted in the fact that people don't know where they come from, they don't know their own past. As an involved political activist at that point, those words pierced my heart. They made me realize, along with the questions posed by the Native American chief, that to be my fullest and best self, I needed to better understand the story of my people --  who they are, how they live, and where they come from.

This propelled me into a years-long search for answers to those questions. And answers I found. And the central theme connecting all of those answers together was Israel.

This epiphany inspired me to visit Israel for the first time at age 22. And when I did, I immediately sensed Israel was my people and my homeland. It was my people's place in this world and it gave us a sense of place. It was the beginning point and the place to which we returned to after 2,000 years of exile. And now that we’re back in Israel, it once again is the source of our aspiration and our inspiration, fueling our vision for a better world for all people.

So what is Zionism to me?

It is the heart and soul of the Jewish people. It is what connects Jews to each other and to our Jewish story. It is our past, our present, and our future. It is a reminder of what it is we set out thousands of years ago to accomplish, for the benefit of the entire world.

Akiva Gersh has been teaching about Judaism and Israel for over 20 years. He now offers an array of online courses and virtual tours of Israel. Learn more about it at his website: at-israel.com