Onnie Schiffmiller

The Good Land: Dear Rebecca*

Dear Rebecca,

You are named after a woman who would only be 87 today. Less than a century between you, but it’s hard to believe you were born into the same world. In many ways you weren’t.

For your great grandmother, Israel was a dream of all Jews that morphed into a spectacular reality. She knew that she could visit Jews anywhere in the world and know that they have something in common; their belief in the moral and legal imperative of a Jewish State in the land of Israel. Your great grandmother could never have imagined the burden that would sit squarely on your tiny shoulders. She could never imagined that Jews across the globe would now be questioning the right to your country’s existence. Rebecca, I look at you resting so peacefully in your crib; fed, bathed and dressed by your attentive parents and a part of me wishes that you could hold onto that innocence forever. But of course you can’t. And that’s OK. That’s the way it should be.

In just a few short months, your parents will start hiking with you.  After all, your parents are Israeli and that’s what all new Israeli parents dream about; the excitement of introducing their children to the beauty of the land.  Truth be told, your grandfather can’t wait to buy you your first pair of hiking boots.  But, after you learn to splash in the mini waterfalls of the Judean Desert’s Nachal Bokek (Bokek Stream), climb the ladders in the Negev’s Ein Avdat Trail and maneuver over rocks in  the Galilee’s Nachal Snir (the Snir Stream), you’ll start to hear things that will shock you.  While your hands are still pudgy and dimpled, your very existence will be demonized. There will be people, even other Jews, who will tell you that your people are evil; that they are usurpers; that they have no rights to the land you will find so beautiful.  Visit an American college campus and people might not even let you speak once they find out that your passport was issued in Israel.

Little Rebecca, you will need to be strong for the weight of the world will be placed on your shoulders.  The land you call home is not perfect.  But at a very tender age, you will have to understand that imperfection does not equal evil.  A country can make mistakes some of the time while being a beacon of hope, goodness and inspiration all of the time. You’ll have to be honest and admit that Israel is not perfect.  But recognize that she is trying to improve.  Know her strengths so that you will always be a proud Israeli.  Stand tall and others will respect you.  Where will you get that strength?  From walking the land; by talking to people.  People who look like you and those who don’t. Learn their stories and share them with others. Stories like these:


Daoud, a Druze reservist in the Israeli army who welcomes people into his home with magnificent views of the Carmel Mountain Range provides kosher food so that everyone can experience Druze culture in Israel.

Makrum, the proprietor of a restaurant in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.  Makrum and I are buddies and although my kashrut observance prevents me from enjoying his delicacies, he always brings me a cold drink and a plate of fresh vegetables when I come with tourists so that I don’t go hungry.

Safira, the Muslim sales clerk in a local housewares store that always teases me that I was the only Jew who was smart enough to take advantage of the pre-Passover sales on Pasta machines.

Sara, the Orthodox resident of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City who has been researching the history and details of her neighborhood, often at her own expense, so that visitors can understand the miracle of a united Jerusalem.

The Huwara family who graciously offered to share their barbecued food with us in the park when they saw that all we had were fruit and crackers.

That 57-year-old Gamal Hakroosh has recently been named Deputy Police Commissioner, the highest rank ever bestowed upon an Arab-Israeli at a time when it would have been easy for the government to say that given the increased wave in Palestinian terror, no Arab promotions would be considered.

Despite the presence of Hezbollah strongholds just north of Israel in Southern Lebanon, Northern Israel still attracts hikers from across the country and across the world; people excited to enjoy Israeli trails and hospitality.

Ben and Lisa, who when mistakenly missed the last bus home, were offered a hot shower and a warm bed by a fellow hiker.

Rabbi Yoni who, along with others, is working to make the beauty of Judaism accessible to Jews across the religious spectrum.

And the improbable group of Muslim and Jewish kids learning to play together in the completely un-Israeli sport of baseball in Petach Tikva, the mother of modern Israeli settlement.

Little Rebecca, the world will try to tell you that you are a corrupt person being raised in a hothouse of religious and racist intolerance. As you grow, please take advantage of all that this country has to offer and let your goodness serve as a message to all that your beauty comes from your beautiful parents and your beautiful land.

Chag Sameach (Happy Holidays) to all


*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality


About the Author
Onnie Schiffmiller is a tour guide and the owner of Israel with Love. She made aliyah with her family from New York in 2003.
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