Israel is the only country in the world with a Jewish majority culture. To be a Jew in Israel during a religious or national holiday is an awesome experience. I remember vividly my first Purim in Israel many years ago when I noticed that the bus driver was wearing a Purim costume and I remember thinking, “wow, even the bus drivers are Jewish!”
Growing up in western countries I keenly felt my minority status during the Christian holidays, specifically at the end of the year. It is still strange to be in a country where the 25th of December is just another day. Even after all of these years in Israel I am still in awe at the success of the Zionist enterprise, “the hope of two thousand years to be a free people in our own land.” As the secular year draws to a close I would like to jot down some of my personal observations from the past week in Israel:
You know you are in Israel when…
- When one lands in Israel with ELAL and people on the plane clap.
- They play the Arik Einstein song, “How good that you have come home.”
- The captain says “Chag Sameach!”
- People still literally kiss the ground out of gratitude.
- There is Chanukah music on the radio.
- People show their gratitude by driving to IDF checkpoints and giving treats to the Modern Maccabees defending our state.
- Zionist youth movement members hike to Masada and other historically important sites and places of natural beauty during the school holidays.
- IAF F16’s symbolically fly by the ancient desert fortress of Masada.
- There are Chanukiot (Menorahs) lighting up public spaces as well as all houses – religious and secular, as the nation celebrates this national/religious holiday.
- The Western Wall on Mondays and Thursdays is a seething mass of Jews of all denominations celebrating Bnei Mitzvah.
- The daily newspapers have the secular and Hebrew dates as well as a picture of a Chanukiah on the front page with the correct amount of candles for that day.
- There are Sufganiyot (doughnuts) everywhere, malls, work, train/bus stations…everywhere!
- The city of Modiin is not just the location of a story in an ancient book; it is a modern thriving city demonstrating in the words of the “al hanisim” prayer recited on Chanukah, “In those days and in this time.”
- The sevivon (dreidle) in Israel has the Hebrew letter “Peh” on, standing for the Hebrew word “po” (here), as in, “the miracle happened here” as opposed to the letter “shin” written on the dreidels in the diaspora standing for “sham” (there).
With all of the many external and internal issues Israel is wrestling and grappling with, ranging from security to social to environmental, when one takes a step back, one realises that we can justifiably be proud of having accomplished so much. From reviving our land, our language and ability to be in charge of our own destiny, we really can state that with the help of hard work, gritty determination and belief in our right to be in this land, “A miracle happened here.”