I can’t even put into words the love I have for this spicy little country I live in. For every struggle and hardship I’ve experienced here, there’s been a thousand moments that have made it all worth it. Most Israelis think that North Americans are crazy for leaving a familiar and cozy lifestyle we’ve always known to dive into a society burdened by so much more than we could ever know. So much of the magic that entices Olim to make Aliyah is just normalcy for the people that have grown up here. The feeling I get while standing in Kikar Rabin on Yom Ha’Zikaron our national memorial day, listening to the daunting sound of the wailing siren that mourns those who have died for us, followed by thousands of people singing the anthem that emancipated our people is one of the most enchanting experiences I think I will ever have in my life. I just stand there and think about what Jews have gone through and what we have done as a nation to overcome our persecution and I’m bewildered.

I have never heard of a nation of people that has been so victimized yet strived so hard to refuse victimhood. I sit and listen to the families of people my age talk about loss of life and tragedy and realize what a gift it is to be brought back down to the human level of the regional conflict that perpetually terrorizes us. We focus in from the overarching discussion of wars and history for a moment to examine the individual impacts that this war has on our society. I try to make sense of the stories being told to me of people my age whose lives were taken from them this summer, although it’s something that can’t quite be understood.

Most of the world and many of our own citizens consider Israel’s military doctrine oppressive and unjust. They demonize and delegitimize our struggle for survival, and give credit to irrational people who wish to destroy us for no other reason than who we are. I understand how the ignorance that has poisoned a lot of the world, especially the radical Muslim world which glorifies death before life could blind them from reason and convince them to hate us. But I will never understand how any rational human being living in the Western World and in Israel itself especially, who values life over death could not commemorate with his entire being what our people have sacrificed and continue to do every day, and how they could not call themselves Zionists.

Zionism should not be attached to a stigma reserved for extremists or ultra-right wingers. When I proudly declare that I am a Zionist, I should not have to explain that I value all human life and wish that Israelis and Palestinians could live together in peace. But I also shouldn’t have to explain why I support a government that understands that sacrifice is necessary to achieve peace and security. To be a Zionist means to choose life. This is the entire principle upon which the founding of the State of Israel rests upon.

Israel has one of the strongest militaries in the world not because we choose war, but because we choose peace. It makes so little and so much sense at the same time. We fight a war every day against people who choose to kill our sons and brothers more than they choose to live. There are people on the left fringe of society who refuse to believe that human beings are capable of such simple evil, and so they decide to hate Israel because it is easier and more convenient.

The fact that through persecution and genocide we have used our oppression as fuel to build a new world for ourselves and our children is something so unique. It is not just a story, it is a lesson on how to live each of our lives every day.

On this Yom Ha’Atzmaut or Independence Day, I celebrate the inexplicable amount of pride I have in being part of a society, a nation, a culture and a country that in general lives by a mentality that despite living under immense societal stress that has become to them so normal, continues to flourish, develop, show compassion and refuse victimhood. Today I celebrate a beautiful country that has so many customs and traditions that the rest of the world will tragically never know because the narrative they are being fed is consumed with falsities and lies. And because unlike those of us living in Israel, they are not exposed to the human side of our struggle. I take a moment to reflect what being a Zionist really means and how it’s not just a political statement, but a principal on how we as a people value ourselves and how above all else, how we value life.