Reclaiming Hatikvah

I had a realization that upended the foundations of my life.

It happened while I was chatting with my cousin from Montreal. His daughter is spending the year here in Israel – just like I did 13 years ago.

She is struggling to reconcile Israel, he told me: she’s enjoying the fun and intense Tel Aviv lifestyle but she has difficulty with Israel’s actions and its increasing isolation.

That’s the story of my life, I replied. I too am in constant conflict with my love for Israel.

Like me, my younger cousin grew up in Montreal’s esteemed Jewish days schools and was inculcated with a deep commitment to Israel. She also visited here a few times before deciding to live here for an extended period.

Unlike me, my younger cousin has only known Israel in a state of conflict – suicide bombings, calls for boycott and fierce international criticism, the Separation Barrier. This is Israel for her. In fact, our welcome present to her was a canister of pepper spray because she arrived with the outbreak of the “knife Intifada.”

Her experience is in stark contrast to my initial courtship with Israel.

I started visiting this country in the ’90s of hope.

I fell in love with a country of optimism and peace, on the cusp of the new Middle East. The songs on the radio were happy. The air itself exuded a tangible sense of relief. Israelis could finally live a normal life, like citizens of other countries.

It was this country that drove me to transfer my life here – a very dramatic move.

Growing up in Montreal in the 1980s and 1990s, this tiny strip of desert spurred my imagination like nothing else. I came of age in the shadow of Quebec separatism – a liberation movement in my homeland that left me out. Plus, my grandparents are Holocaust survivors. So Canada was our home in practice, and no one had regrets about settling there or plans to leave, but Israel was our true home, our spiritual refuge should history repeat itself. It was non-negotiable, our beacon, our hope.

Unlike the national struggle unraveling around me, Zionism was purely mine.

When I actually touched Israel for the first time – I fell madly in love. It’s a love that persists to this day, despite the many challenges it’s encountered. These include several wars, constant terror, an ongoing occupation, and a career in media and human rights that crudely exposed me to this country’s many ills.

It’s a love that’s not rational, that I can’t explain even to myself.

So, the discussion about my cousin’s impressions of Israel made me question the core of this love – and, consequently, the life I’ve built here.

If I had been born at another time, would I have fallen in love with Israel? Was my first true love an issue of timing? Circumstantial? Was I just in the right place at the right time?

If I were 10 years younger, would I live here now? Would I have moved here as the Second Intifada raged on? Would I have insisted on flying here despite my mother’s pleas, as a bus exploded mere meters from my new workplace? Would I be married to my husband? Would my kids have Israeli names and speak to each other in Hebrew?

Can I fall out of love with Israel?

I was seduced by a country of hope and optimism. My cousin is grappling with a country devoid of hope.

What is left for her? How will her life change because of this fundamental difference? How will Israel’s skewed path change the future of this country, Zionism, and the Jewish people?

Our contact with the initial miracle of Israel – contact with my grandparents’ generation for whom Israel is the ultimate redemption – is fading into history. The younger generation, the one my cousin belongs to, is increasingly alienated from this magic, from this visceral love.

The lack of hope pervades our collective consciousness and our public discourse, too. Just recently, Prime Minister Netanyahu said “we are destined to live by our swords forever.”

Dear PM, we are not.

It’s hope that drives us to survive, not fear. Hope is our birthright. It’s our national anthem, “Hatikvah.”

Reclaiming our collective hope is possible but it means we have to look past the doomsday rhetoric, the violence, the never-ending conflict.

As the country dresses in blue-and-white and we focus on all that we’ve accomplished this 68th Independence Day, let us wish for hope.

Let it drive us to a better future.

About the Author
Born in Canada and living in Israel since 2003, Melanie Takefman writes about life in Israel, herstory and cross-cultural identity. She is currently working on a book about women and migration.