My bucket list got a little lighter over winter break when I embarked on a long-awaited journey to Israel through Taglit-Birthright. The program gives young Jews the opportunity to go on a free 10-day, organized trip to connect with our faith. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve never felt such a profound and instantaneous love for something—I was overcome by emotion and feelings of patriotism every day.  I walked through Jerusalem’s Old City in astonishment and celebrated New Year’s Eve dancing in The Shuk. I climbed Masada to watch the sunrise and floated in the Dead Sea. I reflected in Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall where David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s statehood nearly 70 years ago. I grieved at Yad Vashem, shook to my core by the Children’s Memorial. I laughed with newfound friends hiking in the Golan Heights, dabbled in Krav Maga and ate such delicious hummus it was as if I were tasting it for the first time. I can’t wait to return one day!

Upon my return from Israel, I’ve given a lot of thought to the nature of my upbringing and my connection to Judaism during college. Jews are perennial outsiders, representing 2.2 percent of America’s population. But I had a sheltered childhood identifying with the community of my heritage, growing up and going to school on New York City’s Upper West Side, one of the most concentrated areas of Tribe members outside Israel. I was raised in a strong Jewish family, exposed to the rich cultural and social history of the American Jewry. I attend synagogue on the High Holidays and my parents would like it if I married a nice Jewish girl. I grew up to the music of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. I cherish Philip Roth’s writing and the Coen brothers’ films. A Jewish upbringing has had a fundamental impact on my personality, perspective of the world and the people to whom I’m drawn.

When I made the decision to leave New York City for the boonies of New England, I gave little thought as to how it would affect my relationship with Judaism. So this is what it’s like to be an outsider!  You call that a bagel? I’ve made friends with peers who have met maybe a handful of Jews in their entire lives before they landed here. “Jewish” rolls off their tongues like an exotic word, which I am not offended by. On the other hand, there are those who find nothing exotic about Judaism. I suppose that’s what you can expect from any college drawing from a large, diverse national applicant pool. I’m not trying to assign blame, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’ve never fully come to terms with it.  And there have been painful moments. Bowdoin’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, a human rights organization possessing what I would characterize as a flawed one-sided narrative, attempted to make the College endorse a cultural and academic boycott of Israel per the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.  I am a proud, open-minded supporter of Israel and believe in a two-state solution, but engaging in a conversation about this emotional, complex conflict on a liberal campus is like hitting your head against a wall. The petition divided the campus and felt like an attack on my very being. Let’s at least talk directly to each other and look for common ground.  As my grandmother used to say, “It couldn’t hurt!”

Even during my wonderful study-abroad year in Paris, I faced the same issues of being a stranger in a foreign, non-Jewish land. Sure, it wasn’t exactly a hardship to give up bagels for baguettes, and the broad, varied demographics of the City of Light felt much like New York City. But the facts speak for themselves: France’s Jews are fleeing the nation at record levels as surging anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism haunt the nation.

I fear the surge in American anti-Semitic acts during Trump’s presidency becoming the new normal. Trump’s alt-right chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, is a noted anti-Semite. Bernard Henri-Lévy recently wrote of the president, “He seems to see Jews as the caricature of the New York establishment that, for decades, took him for an agreeable but vulgar showman.” These are dark days and I’m searching for glimmers of hope. As I navigate my place in the world I want to believe we’re not as divided as it appears. I’m not going to give up pushing for change and I hope you’ll join me. I believe in the resilient American character which President Obama underscored last year, declaring, “We are all Jews.” It’s a lovely thought and I wish it were so.  Maybe good Chinese food could then be found outside New York City. But I happily settle for seeing Bowdoin Hillel friends who joined me on Birthright, smiling as we recall memories and inside jokes from an unforgettable ten days.

Gabriel Frankel is a member of the Class of 2017.