Do you ever find that when someone forgets a word, they instead describe the essence of the word they can’t recall? I was a witness to that experience, and the word was “Israel”.

A few days after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995 I found myself on a business trip to Miami, Florida. After dropping off the rental car at the end of the trip, I hopped on the shuttle bus to take me back to the airport. As we approached the main terminal of the airport, I saw that the US flag at the entrance was flying at half-mast.

I had a feeling I knew why the flag was lowered but asked the bus driver anyway who had died. He responded that this was a gesture of respect for the Prime Minister of… He couldn’t quite recall the name of the place. After thinking and stammering for a few seconds, the driver said that it was the Prime Minister of “the place with the Jewish government.” He couldn’t come up with the word “Israel” but he knew it was the place with the Jewish government.

I am thinking of that now not only because 20 years have passed since Rabin’s assassination. It is also because it is worth recalling from time to time what the fighting is all about. It is to have one place on this planet where we can rule ourselves, where we can make decisions for ourselves, and importantly, where we can look after ourselves.

Granted, sometimes looking after ourselves is a messy business. Decisions made may not be the decisions we would choose to make. Sometimes the democratically elected representatives of the State of Israel say things we wouldn’t say, take positions we wouldn’t take and do things we wouldn’t do. There is fighting and conflict- and that is amongst ourselves, let alone with those who are determined to destroy us.

Those of us who live outside Israel don’t have the luxury of throwing up our hands and saying all of this is too complicated/messy/embarrassing/discouraging, and that it is not worth the energy and effort. Sadly, all of us who are supporters of Israel see this too often. That is why it is important to go back to the essence and remember what we are supporting: Jewish autonomy, Jewish freedom, Jewish democracy, Jewish security, Jewish ingenuity, Jewish pride. In other words:

“The place with the Jewish government”.

Sixty-eight years ago there was no such place. Now there is. It is worth stopping every now and again to remember that we have a right to have such a place. We also have an obligation to preserve it.