This is my home. It’s where I was born, went to school and got married. Israel is where I played basketball and skinned my knees while hiking, where I annoyed my parents and loved my siblings.
In between those routine actions, which many 24-year-olds around the world can relate to, I also heard explosions rock the Mahane Yehuda market when I was in elementary school, served in the army for three years and was asked more than once while traveling if I had internet at home.
Because I’m Israeli, and have been for my entire life.
On the eve of my home’s 64th birthday, I found myself reading blogs and opinion pieces about the place I grew up in. Across the internet many acquaintances, friends and other decent people wrote important pieces about the core issues of the society in which we live.
However, to me, many of these pieces miss the main reasons the nation will be mourning on Wednesday and celebrating on Thursday. They don’t write about their home.
The Times of Israel also featured noble and worthy ideas. In one piece, Shira Zwebner asked why Israel doesn’t have the equivalent of Veterans Day — something commemorated in many countries around the world.
While she rightfully criticized the attitude of some toward those who were injured and disabled in combat, the idea of asking Israel to honor IDF veterans, on a special day, ignores a key question: How does one define a veteran if you remain a soldier for many years after the initial three you’ve served? It is a question I never asked, probably because even though I’ve been out of the army for two years I don’t consider myself a veteran. In fact, I’ll be wearing a uniform again shortly.
In a separate article, Ariel Beery wrote about Israel’s need to upgrade itself if it wants to keep the best and the brightest here. Zionism and ideology are no longer enough to lure Jews over to this country, he explained, noting that Israelis who used to be called “yordim” are no longer labeled as such.
“Why live here?” he asked, and one simple answer eluded him: We live here because it’s home. Yes, people can leave home and travel to new dwellings and locations; it happens all the time. However, home stays part of them; it’s not just something you can disregard.
Some people come to Israel from overseas (like both my parents, who came here on their own and met after making aliya) because they feel it’s their home, while some people who are born here choose to leave because they want a different, new home.
For me it boils down to this:
Israel is my home. There are many other reasons to mourn or celebrate, but it’s where I grew up.
On Memorial Day I think about friends who are no longer with us and are buried in military cemeteries, about children who were my age in high school but remain 17 forever because they were on the bus when a bomb went off a few hundred meters from my school.
I remember helping my mother with my baby brother’s gas mask when the sirens blazed during the Gulf War in ’91, and I revisit the stories of fallen soldiers who served in the same unit as me — soldiers who could have been me.
It’s not only a day of symbolism, although there is much of that present. Memorial Day is a day where I acknowledge that I grew up in a country that asked me to be different than all my peers around the world, to face challenges and realities that aren’t always happy.
Hours afterwards I’m in a different mindset, a different mode. You’ll find me dancing, singing and having a good time with friends. Israeli music will blare from the speakers of whichever party I happen to attend.
On the morning after, I’ll celebrate my country’s birthday with my family. We’ll have a large B-B-Q — calling it a “mangal” — with hummus in our pita. Again, good music will be playing in the background, although it will be a few decibels lower than the previous night’s tunes.
Is it possible that I’ll think about what a wonderful country I live in? Will there be serious discussions about what changes we’d like to see when we celebrate the 65th birthday of Israel? The answer to both is yes. But, to me, that will not be the main focus point of these national days.
Israel – for good and for bad, when happy and when sad – is my home. I’m willing to pay a price to defend it, and I’m glad to be celebrating its birthday with my friends and family.