69 years ago, I was a 7-year-old kid marching up the Grand Concourse in New York City’s Bronx in support of the creation of the a state for the Jews in Palestine, ultimately to be known as Israel.
In those days, the Jewish population of the Bronx numbered just under a million people, there were synagogues every few blocks and everyone seemed Jewish. As a matter of fact, in the public elementary school that I attended, I learned Yiddish songs, as the Irish Catholics in the neighborhood all went to Catholic schools, leaving the public schools to the Jews. Truly amazing in retrospect, if one thinks about it.
My father of blessed memory was the president of Chapter #66 of the Zionist Organization of America and twice a year, in the spring and the fall, there was a parade in support of a UN resolution to partition Palestine. Most of the time I supported his efforts by stuffing envelopes but, if the weather was good (in those days our parents were a bit over protective and would not let me march in the rain), I marched with everyone else, as we walked from the area of Yankee Stadium to the reviewing stand near Fordham Road and on to the terminus of the parade route.
It was inconceivable to anyone in those days that if, indeed, the support for a Jewish state resulted in success, 69 years later we would be living in the kind of amazing country Israel has become. Who would have believed, for example, that we would become a high tech power with more tech startups than any country in the world except for the United States? Who would have believed that Israel in 2016 would be a country with one of the world’s strongest currencies? Who would have believed that Israel would be the only Western country whose birthrate is significantly above replacement levels, even among secular Israelis? Who would have believed that someday more than half of world Jewry would live here? Who would have believed that ultimately foreign direct investment in Israel would rival or exceed that of most of Europe and that the world would beat a path to our door to do business with us? And, as recently as 30 years ago, who would have believed that, someday, people would pay $12 million for an apartment in Tel Aviv? Nobody would have believed these positive manifestations of statehood.
Of course, the fears that were expressed in those days as to how a country surrounded by enemies could survive, or how the country could sustain growth without adequate water supplies, or how would we continue to attract immigrants given how poor the country would be at the start were all valid concerns. But with a unique brand of guts, chutzpah, creativity and, of course, faith that a higher power wanted us to succeed, we have done so, and beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Not to say there aren’t problems yet to be solved. For sure there are but what country in the world today does not have serious challenges? The world is in bad shape, visionary leadership is lacking, and it often appears that world war III has already begun. Given all of that we are doing pretty well.
But all one has to do is watch the following:
to have their spirit rejuvenated and their faith in our future renewed. The link will take the reader to the last portion of last night’s opening Independence Day ceremony at Mt. Herzl where the flags of the State of Israel are transferred to the IDF unit that will watch over them during the coming year. There is no way to watch these 20 minutes with a dry eye. And added to the inspirational value of the event itself, is watching General (Ret) David Rokni, 84 years young, in uniform and acting as the master of ceremonies of the event, as he has done for the past 38 years. Ramrod straight and able to stand during the entire ceremony he, along with those magnificent young men and women of the IDF marching by are the symbols of everything that is good about this country.
After 32 years in this country I still get a tear in my eye when I see the Israel flag unfurled at the ceremony and think back to the days when we marched up the Grand Concourse in support of the creation of Israel. Those of us who live here are blessed to be able to do so and grateful to all of the forces, human and otherwise, that make this possible. May we all be around for many years to come to continue celebrating the independence of our country, the democratic and Jewish State of Israel.