My Grandpa Was A Zionist

My grandpa was a Zionist.

When we celebrated his 90th birthday just under two years ago, my grandpa was also celebrating meeting his youngest great grandchild, Gal, for the first time. Just a few months old, Gal and his mother (my cousin) traveled from their new home just outside Beersheva to celebrate the big birthday. It was November 2012 and while we celebrated in the party room of my grandparent’s apartment building, southern Israel was under attack, Gal’s abba was called up for miluim, and Gal’s older siblings stayed with family. But my grandpa was a Zionist so when my aunt made aliyah in the 70s he was supportive and that’s how he ended up with a visit from Gal and a party during a war that hit close to home.

The author's grandpa on his 90th birthday
The author’s grandpa on his 90th birthday

And my grandpa was a Zionist so when we presented him with the picture book his grandchildren made for his birthday, we saw holiday celebrations and we knew that singing “L’shanah ha’ba’ah be’Yerushalayim” was not an empty, rote recitation, but a commitment and a promise. And my grandpa kept that promise because he was a Zionist and he flew to Israel every year of his adult life once his daughter, my aunt, made aliyah, and he had grandchildren (and then great grandchildren) to visit. My grandpa knew how to fly, always calling ahead for an aisle seat and encouraging his family to do the same. Before every trip, it was the same phone call – “Miss Shawn” – everyone had a grandpa nickname – “did you call the airline yet? Make sure you have an aisle seat. Grandma and I like to get a whole row to ourselves. Call the airline. Let me know how you do.”

And my grandpa was a Zionist so when we looked at those pictures in his 90th birthday book half of the pictures were taken in Israel. Because my grandparents sent all three of his children to study abroad in Israel in the 70s, and all three of those siblings met their spouses while they were there. And growing up with bamba and bisli in previously empty suitcases from grandpa and grandpa’s trips to Israel wasn’t enough, so not only did grandpa visit his Israeli grandchildren, but all of his American grandchildren ended up spending time studying in Israel. And because grandpa was a Zionist so are his children and grandchildren and his great grandchildren (grandma, a former president of Hadassah, probably also has something to do with it).

My grandpa was a Zionist and so, on his 90th birthday we celebrated but we worried about what was happening in Israel and Gaza, and we prayed that things would get better.

And just under two years later, with the celebrating and the worrying still clear in our memories, the IDF entered Gaza for Operation Protective Edge. And the children and grandchildren and great grandchildren of my grandpa mourned with the entire people of Israel because we are Zionists and kol Yisrael areivim zeh la’zeh and we mourned among the mourners of Zion, the families of Gilad, Eyal, Naftali, the families of Sean Carmeli, Max Steinberg, and more.

And we cried because on the day that Israel commenced air strikes against Gaza we buried our grandpa, the Zionist. And we held up our cell phones at his funeral, Skyping in our cousins in Israel, including Gal’s imma, who slept that night, and continues to sleep, with her children – my grandpa’s great grandchildren – in the bomb shelter in their home. And we added prayers for the State of Israel in our shiva minyanim. And while our mourning was personal, we knew – as we all know when we turn on CNN or see our newsfeeds flooded with articles about the war in Gaza – that we were not the only ones in mourning.

My grandpa did not live to see peace in Israel and maybe his children won’t either but maybe his grandchildren and maybe his great grandchildren – the ones he knew and the ones he will never know but will surely carry his name – will. Because my grandpa dropped me off at school every morning and he called two things out the window – “Learn things! Happy day!” – and because he was a Zionist and if nothing else Zionists know how to hope, and because my grandpa was a Zionist I am a Zionist, and so I carry hope that from this war we will learn things and see happy days.

About the Author
Shana Zionts is a Jewish educator living in New York City