A song for Israel.
My principal asked me to help the children in religious school prepare a song to sing to the congregation this Shabbat morning. A song about Israel.
I thought about a song she suggested – David Melech Yisrael – but I wanted something new, fresh, and different.
I searched on the internet and found this one by a songwriter and composer from Washington, D.C. named Carol Boyd Leon:
I don’t know why, but the children’s light-hearted, innocent voices made me happy every time I listened to them and saw the pictures of Israel flash by. An arm wrapped around another’s shoulder in a dance. Faces were a different color than mine, and those people were every bit as proud to be Jews.
Since the little heavenly voices and photos lifted my spirits, I sent the link to the two young “shlichim” who had worked in our schools and synagogues two years ago – Liron and Aviram. The two were back in Israel, and Liron was studying in the university while Aviram was serving the country. Liron wrote back and said: “The song sounds really hopeful.”
Hopeful? I thought Liron translated a Hebrew thought into an English word and perhaps it wasn’t the right word. After all, I will say something in Hebrew and use the word for a boy rather than a girl by mistake. Or I will hear an Israeli say something and know that they really meant something else.
And then it struck me.
Liron used exactly the right word!
The song gave her hope.
From all over the world, the people of Israel read what others say about them. They see the anti-Semitic cartoons in the media, like the one printed in The Economist about U.S. President Barack Obama being shackled by a Jewish-controlled Congress and not being able to shake hands and make a deal with Iran.
Or the people of Israel read about the huge percentage of American Jews who voted for the current president and wonder, “Why?”
(Let me interject and tell you that I have seven brothers and sisters and a 93-year-old mother who is still alive, and only one of us voted for him. The rest of us heard and understood all your concerns! My mother may be frail, but feisty. Arik Sharon would have been proud of her. She is a lion. “I told 50 people not to vote for him!” she cries.)
The people of Israel can read about one boycott and accusation of “occupation,” “racism,” and “apartheid” after another. Or learn about how a Dutch soccer team ditched its Israeli defender, Dan Mori, on the way to the United Arab Emirates because it didn’t want to upset the two German teams it would be playing in Abu Dhabi.
And sometimes – or maybe most of the time, and understandably – a person living in Israel feels very much alone. As if he’s fulfilling the dream of Theodor Herzl for a Jewish homeland and keeping it safe for all of us all by himself.
But that is not the case. Yes, you are there and is your children who are in the army, but there are thousands of us in the Diaspora who wake up each morning to read the Israeli headlines and make sure that your yeladim are safe. If one young soul is taken, we grieve. It is as if it is one of our own.
For all over the world, as the song says, there are Jews who keep Israel very much in their heart, and whose hearts soar when they hear the sound of Hebrew in an American hotel lobby, or at an American convention, or in the seats behind them on an American plane. Or at the table next to them in a restaurant in Barcelona, as I did last September.
The sound of Hebrew is the sound of music to many of us. For we hear the voices of our Israeli brothers, and right away there is a connection to “mishpatim” that is as strong as the bond between our own families.
That song may have given Liron hope, but all of you give us hope.
I count the number of Nobel Prizes won by Israelis – this year and in the past – and my heart bursts with pride. Of the 23 Nobel Prizes awarded in chemistry in the past decade, 11 were won by Jews. And six of those winners were Israeli. This year, Israeli-American chemists Arieh Warshel and Michael Levitt won.
“This,” I tell my children “is what you come from.”
I hear the story of the pale, thin survivors of the Holocaust who picked up guns for the first time and defended the country in 1948 and won. Or stare at the pictures of the young helmeted soldiers, touching the ancient stones of the Kotel for the first time in 1967, feeling those golden bricks in awe and wonder.
There were men fighting in tanks in the Sinai or on the Golan Heights. I watch the videos from the historic battles. The bravery. The daring. The courage. To charge ahead – vastly outnumbered, and with no ammunition – and to prevail? To win? To force a retreat on the other side and save the state of Israel?
More recently, Israeli doctors and nurses saved lives in Haiti. Today, they are there to heal the injured refugees on the border with Syria. They offer the men, women and children of Syria hope.
And then, one can’t miss the news about the countless start-up companies and brilliant technological advances coming out a tiny strip of land in the Middle East.
“I travel the world,” my brother says, “and I see innovation coming out of only two countries – Israel and the U.S.”
You fill us with hope and pride.