I have been stuck in the United States because of the Coronavirus. We made Aliyah 2 ½ years ago; however, since I am only a few years away from retirement, I go back to the states for my job. I planned to return before Pesach, but that is no longer feasible.
I woke up this morning to a message from my cousin. When we first moved to Israel, we stayed in my cousin’s apartment in the beautiful neighborhood of Arnona. It is a quiet mixed neighborhood where Joseph Klausner and S. Y. Agnon once lived. Amos Oz describes walking to Joseph Klausner’s house on Shabbat in his classic work, “Tales of Love and Darkness.”
My cousin’s flat as on Rechov Klausner. Ironically, Professor Klausner’s house no longer stands; however, across the street from where it once stood is S. Y. Agnon’s house now made into a museum. Proceed down the block a little more and you come to the new U.S. Embassy.
The first Jews to come to the land of Israel were Abraham and Sarah. And some of the first people my wife and I were introduced to in our new flat were Abraham and Sarah. They were an octogenarian couple who still lived on the 3rd floor of this walk-up. Sarah had trouble walking and did not come out too often. When she did, she was helped by her husband Abraham, her children and grandchildren.
Over the years I have read many stories about the birth of Israel. There are many famous and near famous people who have captured their tales for posterity. Many individual stories are passed down from family to family that never get told. Israel would not have existed if not for these people who have stepped forward and left their mark in history. It is also true that Israel would not exist if it were not for the common Jew who left everything for a dream.
These were the pioneers. At first, they came from Russia with the ideal to return to the land and build a homeland for Jews. Many were escaping oppression, and some came because of “The Hope.” Most of them were not the leaders, the writers, the poets or great storytellers who left their indelible mark on Israel. Most were unheralded people who saw a future for all Jews. We called these people Halutzim or pioneers.
Soon after more came. Besides the fields, they built cities, a language, educational institutions, industry and the pre-cursors of a nation. They met many hardships along the way. They had to fight the floods of the north, the desert in the south, the Arabs and even the British. Then came World War II which erased 6 million Jewish souls from existence. After the war, those who remained had nowhere else to go so they came in droves only to be rejected by the British and sent to displaced persons camps in Cypress. The British even tried to return some to Europe; even Germany.
These are people who were rounded up with just the clothes on their backs and what they could carry. They were sent to stadiums to then be boarded on railroad cars like cattle and shipped to concentration camps. There to the left, they were instantly assigned to the showers to be killed. If they were sent to the right, they would get branded like cattle and be assigned to work themselves to death. Imagine living through that, only to get on a boat to Israel to be turned back by the British and placed in more camps. When they finally did arrive after Israel declared independence, many were greeted at the docks only to be conscripted to fight for their new homeland.
There was war, sieges, famine, and finally victory but no peace. Israel was to have many other wars where the everyday citizen would be called up once again to defend their homeland. And when they were not fighting for their existence, they were fighting to survive. They fought to absorb over 1 million refugees from Europe and the Middle East from 1946 – 1952. They struggled to turn a 3rd world country into the “Startup Nation” that leads the world in innovation.
They built a country that is ranked 12th in Nobel Laureates per capita. The UN recognizes Israel as the 14th happiest country on the planet. It has an economy that is larger than all of the bordering countries combined. It ranks second in the world to the most number of advanced degrees per capita. It is the ONLY democracy in the region and the only country in the world that has mandatory conscription for men AND women. It has more books printed, museums and orchestra’s per capita than any other country. It is a haven for both vegans and religious Jews who keep kosher.
I never did get to hear Sarah and Abraham’s story. But I know they have lived through most of this. And now, Sarah is gone, I may never know her story. So I pull from all the stories to imagine the life of a couple who have created the land of Israel ex nihilo. So whether I know their particular story or not, I know the impact that they have had on me, my family and my descendants.
I pray that Hashem comforts Abraham and their daughters in their time of mourning amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. And I pray that we lose no other treasures before their time to this insidious virus.