I’ve loved you for a very long time now, almost for as long as you and I have existed.  You are two years older than I am, but that never presented a challenge.

For a time we grew up together.  I was a baby and you were having such difficulties during your very early childhood.  For a while we went our separate ways, but something drew me back to you and that is when our real adventure began.

I learned how to defend you and I fought for you, though it nearly cost me my own life.  Several times.  I learned to love your beauty.  I travelled the length and the breadth of you.  I slept on your rocks and in your muddy soil, and I walked along so many of your paths.

You gave me so many opportunities to meet your inhabitants, every one of whom had a fascinating story of their own to add to yours.  I learned to travel your many roadways, often at night, laden down with this and that and the other.  Some of my most memorable trips took me to the very heart of you, to your wonderful capital high in the Judean mountains.  Arriving with wheat from your fields in the northern Negev, I would sit with others, who like me were waiting to bring you the wheat harvest.  We bought fresh rolls from the Angel bakery, made fresh coffee on our small  portable gas stoves, and added the freshest brie and camembert to make the feast complete.

I crawled down to the Dead Sea, and crawled back up again just as the sun rose, bringing potash to fertilize fields.  I learned to love every turn, every vista, every dangerously fog-filled night, travelling along to yet another new destination.

Corn, freshly harvested from just north of Eilat and just a few short meters away from the Syrian border; chemicals from Haifa bay and poultry to slaughter, I breathed in your beauty on each and every trip.

I served you. I shed my civilian clothing and served you wherever you asked me to. The Sinai, the Gaza Strip, and Gaza City, the new border with Egypt from Rafiah to Taba and then some, and finally Hebron.  I took abuse for you.  I defended your honor in the streets and dangerous alleyways.  I stood guard over the paraplegic leader of the Muslim Brotherhood as he stood trial.  I tried to soften the hatred that some of your sons felt towards our neighbors.

We have grown older together.  We have experienced much in a very short time.  I remain true and loyal to you.  You know that I will always stand by you, no matter what.  And yet, lately, I cannot help but worry about some of the sounds coming from you.  Sounds of fear and sounds of hate.  Sounds that are foreign to me.

I put them into their proper perspective.  I will not let them diminish my love for you.  I will not let them keep me from admiring you, and caring about you, and honoring all that you have achieved.

Happy Birthday, my beautiful Israel!  Happy 68th Birthday!