This week Israel celebrates its 64th birthday. What better time than now, to reflect on the words of the Declaration of the State, as read out by David Ben Gurion all those years ago:
“THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open to the immigration of Jews and for the Ingathering of the Exiles from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations…
PLACING OUR TRUST IN THE ROCK OF ISRAEL, we affix our signatures to this proclamation… in the city of Tel Aviv… on the 5th of Iyar, 5708 (May 14, 1948).”
I love the “Rock of Israel” bit, which apparently was a euphemism for The One Above, and which satisfied both the religious and the anti-religious among them.
And it’s rousing, patriotic stuff, and certainly worth reminding us all, what this country is all about. I could of course, add:
“THE STATE OF ISRAEL will promote the development of pensions and other freebies for workers [sic] in the Israel Electric Corporation, the Israel Defense Forces, and the Bank of Israel, even to the extent of cutting and withdrawing social benefits to the rest of the population; will cover as much land as possible by the widest and most wasteful roads that befit a tiny, densely populated modern state; and will patronize the weakest deciles of the population, irrespective of race, creed or sex, by promulgating an infinitesimally small tax change that improves their take-home pay by up to 12 shekels a month.”
But I won’t, because it just doesn’t seem appropriate.
And Wednesday also sees one of the oddest, most peculiar features of the Israeli calendar. I’m referring to the juxtaposition (and we don’t use that word often enough, do we, possums?) of the somber Memorial Day, which morphs, seamlessly, into the joyous Independence Day. And what better encapsulates this dichotomy than the extraordinary tale of Yona Malina.
He was born in Czechoslovakia in 1967, but his family moved to Switzerland when he was still young. He grew up not knowing his Jewish origins, as his family, devastated by the experiences of the Holocaust, chose to forget those origins. But in time, and with encouragement from his beloved grandmother, his full family history came to light and, as a young adult, he visited Israel, where he fell in love with the country.
He happily unearthed his Jewish roots, studied Hebrew (to add to his other fluent 7 languages) and the holy texts of Judaism, and adopted a Hebrew name, Yona.
In 1995, at the age of 28, just after finishing his ulpan (a five-month intensive Hebrew course for new immigrants, where I met Yona), whilst traveling to Hebrew University by bus, he was critically injured in a terror attack. The medical staff at Hadassah, however, managed to save his life, though he was paralyzed from the neck down, and remained dependent on life-support.
I visited Yona in the week after the incident, in the intensive care unit of Hadassah hospital. He was allowed one visitor at a time by his bed. He was unable to speak. Or, at least, he could move his lips, but given his condition at the time, no sound came out. It was the oddest conversation I had, as I had to lip-read to understand him, (which is pretty difficult). A nurse asked me what language Yona spoke, because so far she’s heard every language under the sun from all the visitors and she didn’t know what language she ought to speak to him in!
His amazing parents, the incredible Eva and Jan, flew Yona back to Switzerland where he was cared for in an institution which is regarded as one of the best in the world for people in such a condition. But Yona was not happy there, and insisted, despite his paralysis, that he be allowed to emigrate, once again, to Israel.
He did so. With the help and support of incredible friends and family, Yona returned and was placed in Tel Hashomer, that vast hospital-cum-village. Though well cared for there, it was not ideal, and he petitioned the High Court to live in his own residence away from the hospital. The High Court granted his request, and he moved, together with a round-the-clock staff into an apartment in Kiryat Ono.
I used to visit him often, and his parents would fly out regularly. He continued to study, joke, be interested in all around him, and to travel, when possible.
The doctors had originally estimated that someone in Yona’s condition could live just one year in that state. But Yona was exceptional, an optimist, an idealist, a fighter for what he believed in.
In 2005, he succumbed to an infection that knocked him out completely. I remember his mother telling me as he lay in a coma that week, “We’re waiting for God to take him”. He finally passed away, May 30, 2005, 10 years after the bomb attack.
He was 38.
May everyone enjoy a wonderful Yom Haatzmaut.