This book is about a young Manhattan socialite’s life that is forever changed when she’s drafted into “nature jail” for a year of community service in U Serve America. And it started with… a deserted beach in Watsonville, CA watching the sun slowly sink into the ocean and talking for hours with a dear friend about life – the good, the bad, the what ifs. Our families stopped at this beach to camp as we made our way along the California coast to the Redwood Forest. It was breathtaking, and I didn’t take for granted how lucky I was to experience it.
Our conversation covered so many topics, but it kept coming back to the dysfunctional state of the US—the divide. My friend’s response to fixing our nation’s problem was community service. Just helping each other could solve our problems and in the process seeing one another for who we are as individuals that want peace, a good education, healthy food and water, and a chance to be loved and respected by others.
That thought stuck with me and a several months later I took a trip to Israel with that same friend and a few others. I left a different person. I’m fifth generation American. My family arrived in Pennsylvania in the late 1600s and their descendants spread across the nation making homes in every state. While we may not be a close-knit family, our roots are deep. Even though our politics and religious views don’t all line-up, we are family in these united states. So, I thought I knew what “united” meant.
What I quickly realized is how un-united the USA is. There is little that pulls us together as one nation. In Israel the unity is so apparent, but it’s not what you think. Yes, there is the Jewish religion but also every culture living side-by-side with extremely different views and practices. The unity comes from their young men and women learning about and serving each other. I’ve never seen so much pride in a nation. It was heartwarming and inspiring.
What I learned is that Israel requires all of its citizens to be part of the army for two years or, under certain circumstances, perform community service for one year. Young adults leave home and meet up with other young adults to learn new skills, provide aid to communities at home and abroad that need it, and are trained and ready to protect their nation at an instance’s notice. They are everywhere – in hotels, restaurants, parks, stores. They are smiling and everyone who sees them smiles back. Even though they are armed and carrying scary looking automatic weapons, their pride and love for their nation and their fellow citizens is profoundly evident.
I’ve never experienced anything like this in the US or any other country I’ve visited. I started to think. What if my friend’s idea was realized? What would America look like if every one of our young people took a year before starting college or trade school or a career to help fix the problems they were about to inherit as adults? Would we start to connect on a deeper level meeting other Americans that don’t look the same, eat the same, pray the same, vote the same? Would we find common ground and respect for one another? Would we make America all it’s hyped up to be but falls short of right now?
What if they got paid to help or receive college credit? Would Detroit still be in ruins after the recession? Would New Orleans still look like a disaster just hit? Would Chicago have the highest murder rate? Would we still be pointing fingers at each other for creating and fixing the problems?
What if U Serve America helped transform not only individuals but our nation?