Shahar Azani
Veteran Israeli Diplomat. Speaker. Author. JBS Senior Vice President. Jewish.

The Zionist Bloom

The daffodil, the inspiration. Credit: Shahar Azani

As I walked down the street this week, a yellow daffodil trumpet flower caught my eye, blooming in the garden of one of the houses. The flower stood tall, adorned with petals, as if they were a regal cloak, and in the center a crown – spreading its scent all around. I smiled, thinking to myself how much nature – much like this week’s Torah portion – is connected to our daily lives and human experiences.

I looked at the daffodil and saw Israel.

On the one hand, the color and shape of the daffodil reminded me of the infamous Nazi yellow star. Just last week, we commemorated the Holocaust Remembrance and Heroism Day. We have gone through and, to an extent, re-lived horror stories that seem to be taken from the worst of our nightmares. We have once again understood the meaning of the slippery slope of hatred and the power of speech that turns into a scream. A scream, which suddenly rolls down the throat of a Nazi officer, next to whom stands a threatening German Shepherd, instilling fear in toddlers, who had come to the end of their young lives. A painful reminder and a constant warning, staring at us with flashing yellow lights. The daffodil, by chance, is also adorned with six petals. One for every million Jewish souls lost, tortured, and murdered in the Holocaust, along with many millions more whose lives the Nazi oppressor deprived. So, the daffodil stands there, upright and proud, despite it all. From the ground it reaches up to the sky, as if shouting, “I am here!”.

I looked at the daffodil and saw Israel.

In the Israeli experience, the daffodil is known as the protagonist of a story of the famous children’s author Levin Kipnis. The story, which was first published in Israel in the newspaper “Davar Le’iladim” in the 1930s (on the brink of Holocaust and resurrection), tells the story of a swamp, ruled by a frog king, who fell ill. The only way to cure him, so the story tells us, is through a flower that will come to reside in the murky waters of swamp. The frogs went and asked for different flowers to come, implored them to bring health and vitality to their king, and encountered a wall of pride and obstinate refusal. Then they reached the daffodil, who, upon hearing their plight, heeded to it and agreed to come and help. It then healed the king and, as a result of his actions, was crowned by him as king of the swamp. The swamp is deeply connected to the Israeli experience of the pioneers, who worked hard in drying up and cultivating the land. Although swamps were part of the country’s natural landscape, and certainly near where Kipnis himself lived, in Hadera, they were connected with various and peculiar diseases and pests (especially the danger of mosquitoes spreading the deadly malaria disease). As a result of this threat and other practical considerations, came the need to agriculturally develop the land, leading the pioneers to engage more and more in the massive activity of drying up the swamps that made way for Jewish settlement and created the Zionist agriculture. The good-hearted flower reminds us of pioneering, which paved the way for realizing the Zionist dream, manifested in today’s State of Israel.

I looked at the daffodil and saw Israel.

On Independence Day, Israel celebrated its 73rd birthday – or rather its renewed birthday – with over 9 million inhabitants. In the sea of ​​cynicism surrounding us and in the swampy politics of the Jewish state (where is the daffodil that would dry that up?!), Israel’s Independence Day is a beautiful opportunity to pause and appreciate what too many of us take for granted. It is easy to fall into the pit of division and controversy, but especially during these days, it is worth taking a moment to feel real pride in the face of what is happening in the flower bed that is the State of Israel. The Zionist miracle is unprecedented in the history of humankind, of a people who have risen from ashes and thousands of years of torment and exile and have come from all four corners of the earth to reunite. It is a pleasure to look at the cutting-edge Israeli technology that has changed the lives of millions all over the world. Rejoice in Israel’s incredible vaccination operation against Covid19, being the first to inspire all with it. Enjoy the leading literary works that Israel produces and the extraordinary creativity on theater stages and the small and big screens.

Yes, it is all amazing and joyous. However, for me, this day is an excellent opportunity to look into the depths of a nation’s soul. To focus, even for a moment, on the unique human tissue that is Israeli society and to feel these tremendous waves of pride. For the most part, the traditional torch-lighting ceremony held annually on Mount Herzl provides such a perspective on who exactly the “Israelis” are. It is a window into the human bloom that is happening in Zion today. This year, among those lighting the torches, will be Dr. Dror Dicker, Director of the Covid19 Unit at Hasharon Hospital, who lost his mother, Yehudit z”l, at the age of 94. Dicker decided not to sit Shiva so as not to leave the hospital and abandon his patients. He chose to continue saving lives. Another lighter of the torch this year will be nurse Maher Ibrahim, an Arab resident of the northern town of Dabouria, who works at Haemek Hospital, who, like many in his profession during this challenging year, treated many severely ill Covid19 patients. One day Ibrahim noticed that the condition of one of his patients, a religious man in his older days, had deteriorated and since it was Shabbat, his family could not be there, by his side, to accompany him in his last moments. He did not hesitate, took the patient’s hand and there, on his deathbed, the Arab nurse recited the Shema Yisrael prayer as his patient breathed his last breaths before leaving this world.

There are many beautiful and varied flowers in the Land of Israel. The carpets of the anemone fields, the white, colorful lily, the tulip, the daffodil, lotus, and chrysanthemums, are all laid out before us — in all their colors and fragrances, their glory and majesty — as they all seem to call proudly, “Here we are.” After thousands of years of exile, and in the face of enormous challenges, then and today – we can say proudly as well, here we are.

‘Then the king took down the golden crown

Over his head, and said

Thank you, dear daffodil.

Put this crown on your head,

Because from today on, you are

The King of the Swamp.”

I looked at the daffodil and saw Israel.

Happy 73rd Independence Day.

About the Author
Veteran Israeli Diplomat. Speaker, Author, JBS Senior Vice President. Formerly Israel's Consul for Media Affairs in NY and L.A.. Thankful for every day. Hopeful for the future.
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