I finally cracked the code, or at the very least some of the enigma of life in Israel. A question that has been nagging at me ever since I first visited here was:
Why are Israelis in such a hurry?
Whether they are driving on the road, shopping at the grocery store, on the phone in conversation, or even most recently, administering Covid-19 vaccines, Israelis seem to always be living life in the fast lane. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said back in December of 2020 that Israel would be the first country to come out of the Covid-19 crisis. Only a few months later, Israel is now marking their 73rd Independence Day and Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Actions of Terrorism with public ceremonies of mourning and gatherings of celebration. One year ago, both of these days were marked by people staying indoors and muted public celebrations.
Part of this is surely tied to the intensity of life in Israel which includes army service and a precarious security situation, but I think we can peel away some of these layers and reach into the core of what is really happening here.
Here’s what I got to:
On May 10, 1948, Golda Meir, then serving as the head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency travelled to Amman, Transjordan for a secret meeting with King Abdullah I. Disguised as an Arab woman, Meir urged the king not to join the other Arab nations in attacking Israel when Independence was to be declared. Abdullah requested that Israel not be in such a rush to declare independence, to which Meir famously responded, “We have been waiting for 2,000 years. Is that hurrying?”
It was with Golda Meir’s response and Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s declaration of Israel’s independence four days later on May 14, 1948 that gave birth to a ‘culture of hurry’ that every tourist and citizen experiences when the walk the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
Israel is in a hurry.
But I actually believe this culture of being in a hurry is part of the DNA of the Jewish people. In some texts of the Passover Haggadah, the introductory words to the entire narrative section where we retell the story of the Exodus read: bivhilu yatzanu mimitzrayim– we left Egypt in a rush. And for the real Passover detectives among us, you will recall that we describe how the Jewish people were hurried out of Egypt on that fateful night, when we barely had enough time to pack our bags, tie our shoes, and prepare food rations. From that moment on came the annual ritual of eating matzah on Passover, the bread that was baked in a rush as we were chased out of the collapsing and crumbling empire of Egypt.
To be in a hurry is to live life with urgency, and it is this urgency that defines Jewish living and perhaps is the secret to the ‘culture of hurry’ that one experiences while visiting or living in Israel.
Jews pray daily for the coming of Mashiach with the words: Ani Ma’amin Be’Emunah Sheleima, B’viyat HaMashiach– I believe with full conviction in the coming of Mashiach. The next part is the key: V’af al pi sheyitmameyha, im kol zeh achakeh lo– And even though he may tarry, despite this I will await his arrival.
This prayer is not mere lip service to help keep our spirits up and infuse optimism in times of darkness. It is undeniable that generations of Jews have told stories of individuals who sung and repeated these words in the bleakest of times throughout Jewish history, but there is another point here that is part of the second half of the prayer. A Jew is meant to live with the belief that history can unfold and change in a moments notice, even if it takes thousands of years, we still wait, because we have seen our hopes and dreams all but vanish only to then reappear in the blink of an eye so many times in the past, we anticipate this reality in the future as well.
At the same time, the Jewish people did not just wait in the past and we will not wait in the present or future either. With the charge of Golda Meir, we are in a hurry. To declare independence, to build a flourishing economy and country, to bring Jews home from the four corners of the earth, and to share our know-how, values, and innovations with others to make this a safer and more stable world to live in–
Israel is in a hurry.
So next time you visit Israel (hopefully soon!) and experience the hustle and bustle of a Friday afternoon at Mahane Yehuda or the whirring traffic on Rothschild Boulevard, appreciate the ‘culture of hurry’, a beautiful reflection of the urgency of the people and State of Israel. In Israel, life is lived with urgency because there is so much to do, and no, we will not apologize for being in such a rush! The world has benefited from this frenetic culture and will continue to do so as long as the Jewish people continue to believe and live with urgency with hopes for a better and greater tomorrow for all of humanity.
Happy 73rd Birthday Israel!