Eight years ago, I wrote about being “Dawn’s Child at 66,” the title an homage to Salman Rushdie’s magnificent novel, “Midnight’s Children,” about those who were born in India as the clock struck midnight on the day when India became independent of the dying British Empire. I updated the blog post in 2018 and now I do so again.
Israel is celebrating our 74th “birthday,” commemorating the reconstitution of the nation of Israel after 2,000 years in exile. In May of 1948, I was almost 6-months-old. Israel’s independence has been a fact for my whole life.
Like many Jewish American kids, I was given a dime once a week, when going to Hebrew school, to plunk in the blue Jewish National Fund box in our synagogue, money raised to plant trees in Israel. Like many American born Jews, I learned to sing HaTikvah at summer camp. Like many Jewish Americans, I read biblical stories with renderings of Jerusalem as we learned about the two Holy Temples and about King David. Like many Jewish Americans, we learned about the “pioneers”, those strong and tough Jews who lived in the land, creating farmland, building homes, and re-settling the land where Jews had lived for centuries before being scattered to the wind for two thousand years. Like many Jews born in America, I dreamed about someday living here, in a place where Jews could rebuild our nation after half of us were slaughtered in Europe; in a place that is our ancestral and indigenous homeland.
But then life got in the way. Career, relationships, family, fear, and a dream deferred for over 50 years. Like so many, the dreams of youth gave way to practicality of day-to-day life. I sat in the US, cried with joy in 1967, sat with fear in 1973, and watched from afar as terrorism took so many lives during intifadas and wars. Growing up seeing assassinations and assassination attempts pull apart the United States, I sat in shock in front of the television when Rabin was assassinated, and it was determined that it was a Jew who pulled the trigger.
All of that feeling of closeness to this land meant much and yet meant little. Because I was not close, but 6,000 miles away. When I decided at age 65, after several trips here, to make aliyah, it was a decision that seemed destined, yet could have easily not been realized.
Friends questioned my sanity; after all there was a war in the summer of 2014 as I was packing and planning. The war with Hamas, however, cemented my decision. I have a friend, a native of New York City, who told me after September 11th, that she felt that she needed to move back to New York when her true home was suffering. I understood. Although not native born to Israel, it had been made clear to me as a child that Israel was home to all Jews and had been since the days of Abraham and Sarah. And delaying aliyah because of a war was not an option.
Now Israel will be celebrating 74 years of reconstitution and independence. I am 74 years old, and it has been almost eight years since I made aliyah. The dawning of a new era in Jewish history was taking place when I was just a baby far away in a country that sheltered my grandparents but was never really a home to the Jewish people, just another way station among many across the globe.
Yes, many bad things happen here. Rockets from Gaza and from the north, brutal inhumane terror attacks, and so much more. On Yom HaZikaron we mourn those who died defending our nation and those who were murdered in terrorist attacks.
Yet, we face these things with the same beliefs of those who came to build new lives after exile from Arab lands or from the ravages of Europe. Seeing this, how can we not be grateful for the 74 years of self-determination for the Jewish people? How can we not celebrate all of this on Yom HaAtzmaut with flags waving and blessings for our land? How can I not feel blessed that in my 74th year I am living a fully Jewish life in our ancestral homeland?
Living in Jerusalem, it is hard not to think about the days when Jews were not allowed to enter the Old City, when Jordanian barbed wire between 1948 and 1967 separated our city. How could I not revel in the celebrations held for the 50th anniversary of the 1967 liberation of Jerusalem? The ceremony at the Old City walls was powerful and tearful. Singing HaTikvah, a song I learned as a child, with thousands of people was a symbol of hopes becoming reality. Now there is thriving Jewish life in a united Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria. It is powerful to have a connection go so deep and be so accessible. Not a picture in a child’s picture book, but the footfall of your own feet where the feet of our ancestors also walked.
74 years of self-determination, and 74 years of a life well lived. My life will end, but the life of this land will continue for millennia as the one true homeland for the Jewish people. Thousands of years of Jewish life and 74 years of self-determination. 74 years and counting.