Seventy years ago my father arrived in Israel. He was a young Holocaust survivor.
Unlike you, he came by boat. But like you, everything was new and confusing. The colors, the noises, the pace.
He stood on the platform at Haifa Port and the clerk shouted: “Children under 17 will go to the absorption center. Over 18, going to the army.” My father raised his hand and said, “I’m 17 and a half, where should I go?” The clerk looked at him and said: “Wherever you want.”
People make decisions that define their lives in a split-second.
My father looked at his mother. My grandma. Then picked up his bag, slung it over his shoulder and said: “I’m going to the army.” And he went to serve in the army of a country whose language he didn’t speak. Whose anthem he could not sing. Whose geography he had little idea about. Whose history he barely knew.
But he did know one thing, something every immigrant knows. Something each of you knows: That he had decided.
A person who makes Aliyah is a person who makes a decision: That their life isn’t random. That they are the architect of their fate. In that sense, all of you, in your first hour as Israeli citizens, constitute a deep expression of the soul of our nation. Because your decision to come to Israel means that Israel isn’t just a place, it’s an idea. It’s a choice.
We are “the chosen people.” People mistakenly think that’s a privilege. In fact, it’s a duty. We were chosen to serve a particular idea, a particular purpose. I believe a strong and free Israel is the foundation of that idea.
I wish you all a normal life in Israel. I hope – and I’m sure that will be the case – that you’ll integrate, work, fall in love, dance at weddings and celebrate bar mitzvah’s and brith’s. That you’ll be joyful citizens of a joyful country — and Israel is a joyful nation. A little noisy as you’ll find out. Sometimes even a little aggressive. But that all stems from joy.
But there will be something else. There will be another element of your life. You’ll know that your lives have meaning. You’ll know you’re not only living your day to day lives but that you’re also part of something greater. Part of something wonderful. Part of something that isn’t possible without you.
The Zionist idea, of a free people in a free country, was built from its first day on people like you. People who woke up one day in a far-away country and said: “I’m part of something. I belong. I belong to something and I want to live it every moment of every day.”
Israel needs you. In most other countries immigrants are met by stern-faced immigrant-officers looking for a reason to reject them. Israel welcomes you happily. We look at you and say, “We need you. Your love, your brains, your energy. We need you because without you our family isn’t complete.” Only in Israel can people land at the airport and the first thing they hear is “Welcome back. Welcome home.”
So welcome back.
And welcome home.
From a speech Yesh Atid Chairperson Yair Lapid delivered to welcome new immigrants to Israel who arrived Tuesday morning on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight. Yair Lapid will be holding a special town hall in English at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem on September 6 at 8pm. For more information and to RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org