Israel is a country built on layers and layers of history that weave into a mosaic to create much of its addictive charm. Everywhere you go exists a contrast of old and new, the ancient mixed with the modern, from the art to the architecture to the food and the language that swims through the lyrics of the literature throughout the culture.
The tastes and sounds of Israel, the smells and sights that trigger your thoughts toward a long train of reflection are themselves a reflection of the unique energy this place holds, a place where everyone dials into their own personal frequency broadcasting waves of emotion you feel with generous abundance.
For much of the world, Israel is the main setting of the bible with the lord our creator serving as narrator. Israel is the nation from which other religions cast their deities in this universal play directed by an unknown power beyond our understanding but well within belief.
For the world, Israel is many things. For the Jews, Israel is the world.
For the Jewish people, Israel means everything.
For 2,000 years we yearned to return to Zion. For 2,000 years we prayed for our revival even as we fought tooth-and-nail for our survival.
After 2,000 years when the offspring of the Israelites finally returned home to the birthplace of our nation, it was not through favor or charity or generosity of spirit but through steely determination and a wounded tiger’s spirit. It was only when the people of Israel discovered the path of Zionism and took our destiny by the throat after it failed us so harshly for so long that our destiny began anew on the path towards freedom.
The Zionist Revolution was the pinnacle of 2,000 years of sorrowed hope that accumulated and appreciated before finally paying dividends. Whether the invisible hand of God was guiding the historical economy is in the eye of every broker, yet it’s impossible not to see how the luck of the Jews changed once we prepared ourselves to reach out and grab it.
I would not be writing these words were it not for those pioneering Jews who bravely set out to recreate the State of Israel. David Grossman, one of Israel’s literary giants, captured the essence of this country in a beautifully succinct way:
A secular miracle, a place where the people who’d never felt at home anywhere on Earth could feel at home.
My version of Israel swirls around in the air whisking the personal and the philosophical into a poetic storm of justice. It represents the rebirth and the renaissance of a 3,000-year-old nation into a 75-year-old state that provided my family of refugees with somewhere to go, a place they could call home.
Although I am a Jew and a Zionist in the depths of my heart, a boy who grew up in the Diaspora listening to tales of Jewish heroism from his Israeli-rooted family, I did not move up to Israel out of any religious calling or political sense of duty.
I moved to Israel because this is where I feel at home. I moved to Israel because this is the only place on earth that gave my family a home when the rest of humanity closed its doors.
I also moved to Israel because it’s the only place I trust. No matter the external dangers or the growing internal turmoil, there is nowhere else on earth that is both able and willing to guarantee Jewish settlement. Only the State of Israel can be entrusted to give the Jews a permanent strip of geography we can always call home as “a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”
Israel is where my Egyptian grandfather called home in 1948 after being forced to flee the only home he’d ever known. He and his three brothers fought in Israel’s War of Independence, a fight for their existence and the existence of their nation.
Israel is where my Slovakian grandmother arrived in 1949 after surviving Hitler’s Holocaust with her remaining sibling and father. Both my grandmother and her brother served in the Israeli army less than five years after dusting off the ashes of Auschwitz.
Israel is where my other Czech grandmother landed in 1949 after a decade in England spent waiting out the horrors, a decade that ended with the early death of my German-Jewish grandfather, which left her alone as a single mother with three too-young children. One of them would grow up to marry a founder of the Irgun and Herut, the movement of Revisionist Zionism.
All of my grandparents were forced to start anew in a land they hardly knew but held dear in their hearts as God-fearing Jews. They went on to contribute to the fabric of Israeli life during its founding generation and the generations that followed.
One relative ended up as the head of Knesset security when a grenade fell into the plenum not too far from David Ben-Gurion. Another relative was responsible for leaving Menachem Begin a passport in the mid-1940s that became his third and final identity before coming above ground.
As we celebrate the State of Israel’s 75th year of independence, I find myself yearning wistfully for an era in which the Jewish people’s fate did a miraculous 180. An era where the future of our history took shape in every crevice of our scrappy little nation struggling to give birth to a reconstituted Jewish state.
To be a face in the crowd in 1948 at a Ben-Gurion soliloquy or a Begin polemic, knowing you are witnessing a once-in-two-millennia event!
To be a soldier on the battlefield after surviving the Nazi killing fields, knowing you are fighting for your right and the right of your children to exist!
To be a member of the tribe who wandered among the nations before finally coming home to found the greatest Jewish nation and tip the tide of Jewish history to flow toward our favor!
Though to be sure, being a Jew in pre-state Israel was not an easy calling. It required a natural-born fortitude that could withstand the physical stress of settlement and the emotional pressures of uncertainty, never knowing if the country you were fighting for would be realized or remain, or if your body would be sacrificed as one of the now-24,213 fallen soldiers who gave their souls to live free and die in an independent Jewish state.
To be an Israeli Jew in 1948 is to witness a pinpoint prick in time where like Irish poet Seamus Heaney wrote, “justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme.”
As we celebrate the Jewish people’s 75th year of freedom and independence, I searched for a way to express the feeling of living in a miracle. I humbly landed on this metaphoric mashup of hope and history where our national anthem “Hatikvah” – literally “The Hope” – sets the stage for our date with history, the Declaration of Independence, the symbol of our victory.
There is no artful justice to this estate we inherited, the Jewish State of Israel our forefathers bequeathed us. Yet to draw on Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of Our Fathers, neither are we free to desist from trying anyway.
For the glory of Israel.