This Passover season marks a momentous time in my life, and in the life of many others. It is the 10th anniversary of the horrific terror attack at the Park Hotel in Netanya. In a broader sense, it marks the 10th anniversary of a gloomy time in your history — the peak of the Second Intifada, and the beginning of Operation Defensive Shield.
It’s been ten full years since I, along with thousands of other IDF combat soldiers, marched through the streets of Ramallah, Tulkarm, Jenin, and several other Palestinian cities, in pursuit of faceless enemies who terrorized our citizens. It’s been ten years since we spent day and night, rain or shine, for weeks on end, inside Palestinian cities searching house to house; ten years since we engaged in those firefights, as we quietly snuck into enemy territory on foot. Despite the shots that blasted at us from buildings above, and despite the grenades thrown at us as we engaged in high density urban warfare, we moved forward for you, Israel. With fire in our eyes, and peace in our hearts and prayers, we charged forward in our mission. We were ready to do anything, even die, just to ensure a better future for the country that we love.
And so, I find myself on this 10th anniversary with a broken heart. I am reminded of that grueling period when we lost good people for you, Israel. I’m reminded of the corpses, the blast of the explosives, and the quiet which follows as we try to figure out who is still with us and who has been sacrificed.
Yet, as I reflect on those days, I ask a question I didn’t dare ask when I was a gung-ho 21-year-old soldier. In the spirit of Passover, I ask the question: Why? Why, as an American born Jew, did I decide to put off college and a career with a fancy suit, in pursuit of advanced explosives training and green fatigues? And yet, I’m not the only one asking this question. Everyone is. Both native Israelis and immigrants to Israel are asking, what are we fighting for?
As I reflect on that period, and begin to prepare to move back to Israel following a four-year stint in the USA, I have never been so confused about what we have fought, and continue to fight, for. Did we fight for the absurd cost of living, mixed with the outrageous tax regime, and the insulting salaries Israelis make? Did we fight in order to witness average hardworking folks bear the brunt of daily challenges for the non-working and non-Zionistic sectors of your society, while we watch them being subsidized by our tax money? Did we fight in order to have the Torah, something I cherish dearly, be hijacked by corrupt political parties? On the flipside of that, did we fight to have a completely secular state that happens to contain Jews but has no Jewish values? Did we fight to have a deteriorating education system for our children — those same children you expect to serve in your military and build your future?
I was recently ranting about these many challenges we face, when someone close to me asked me an obvious question: If these problems are so serious and bothersome, then why are you willing to leave your comfortable life in America and move back to Israel and deal with these issues? Truthfully, I don’t think I will ever have a definite answer to that question, but I think I have an idea.
On this ten-year anniversary I am not only reminded of the violence and tears, I am also reminded of the determination and resilience I witnessed from your beautiful country during that period of time. I am reminded how honored we were to serve your citizens as they endured bombings in their coffee shops and city buses. Most of all, I am reminded how fortunate we are to have a country we can call our home.
That resilience has me convinced that no matter what internal challenges we face, we will overcome them, due to our hope, determination and dedication to you, Israel. As I sit down at the Passover Seder this year, I will proclaim that in every generation there will be an Iran and Hamas. I will also reflect on your resilience and hope; on a nation that strives to fix its internal challenges in order to make you, Israel, a better place to live and a country that shines light unto the world. Above all, I will reflect on those who died ten years ago, knowing that we will not let them perish in vain.