Yael Shahar

Israel: Forever coming home

What makes one decide to leave behind one’s mother tongue, one’s childhood friends and extended family, the comfort of familiar surroundings…all to set up home in a faraway land? Each of us has our own story and our own reasons.

My own reasons are bound up with an unremembered history and an uncompleted life.  But there are some things that most of us share: The feeling that comes over you when you fly into Ben Gurion Airport and see a whole fleet of planes with a blue-and-white magen david on the tail. Or when you fly over Tel-Aviv and see this beautiful and prosperous city spread out along the coast, filled with parks and high-tech industry, full of children who will have difficulty understanding how the Holocaust could happen.

It is the uncanny way that the holidays synchronize with the seasons, and how the collective mood is in tune with the life of the Land. The heart of Am Yisrael (the People Israel) beats in time with the sowing, growth, and harvest, and the individual soul is in harmony with the collective soul.

It is the feeling of living, for the first time in nearly 1,800 years, under our own sovereignty. We may have political scandals and economic problems and high taxes. But they are our scandals, our problems, and our taxes….

It is the understanding that, yes, about ever ten years or so, we have a war. And each war exacts a high cost in terms of lives lost and families devastated. And yet, all the wars and all the terrorism—and yes, even all the traffic accidents—since the founding of Israel have not cost us as much as the worst day in Birkenau.

It is the knowledge that the worst times of all bring out the best that is in us. That during hard times, we can rely on each other. It is knowing that if you have no place to go for Shabbat, you can show up at the poorest neighborhood synagogue and you will be shown the hospitality due a prince, given food, lodgings, and, if you’re single, at least one proposed match. It’s experiencing the incredible spectacle of an entire country standing in silence for two minutes for a memorial siren.

It’s knowing that after the harvest is in and the quiet of autumn approaches, your next-door neighbor will come over to apologize for his daughter’s loud karaoke party last spring, and will seal the peace with freshly-baked bread.

This is only part of what living in the rebuilt State of Israel means.

We’ve built something beautiful here in a short space of time. We aren’t perfect, and we probably never will manage to live up to our own image of what we should be. Certainly, we can never live up to the demands of the rest of the world. But we have built a thriving society out of the ashes of the worst that they could do to us. We’re still here, and whatever may come, we’re home.

About the Author
Yael Shahar has spent most of her career working in counter-terrorism and intelligence, with brief forays into teaching physics and astronomy. She now divides her time between writing, off-road trekking, and learning Talmud with anyone who will sit still long enough. She is the author of Returning, a haunting exploration of Jewish memory, betrayal, and redemption.
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