Rachel Sharansky Danziger

Yom Ha’atzmaut 2015: A New Kind of Zionist Heroes

When I was eight, I saw myself as a heroine-in-training. I revered the founders of Israel and prepared myself to follow in their footsteps. When I read that Manya Shochat, the “mother” of the collective settlements in Ottoman Palestine, slept on floors to harden herself in her youth, I slept on floors too. When I read how Sarah Aaronsohn kept her secrets when the Ottoman soldiers tortured her, I looked for ways to raise my pain tolerance–just in case. My future, I determined, would be a grand adventure, full of opportunities to serve my state and prove my mettle.

After a few enlightening years, my aspirations had changed. I was still planning to lead a heroic life, of course, but I acknowledged that my adventures would have to be more mellow. After all, there is no Ottoman empire to spy against, and no British soldiers to outsmart. I dreamed, instead, of finding my special God-sent “shlichut” (mission) and giving my life to it. I wasn’t sure what exactly it would be, but oh, it would be grand.

Imagine my disappointment when I realized how very not heroic real adulthood is. I may have been a particularly imaginative child, but I don’t think that my disillusionment was unique. In Israel, we grow up in the shade of bigger-than-life heroes. Our teachers instill in us the ideal of “shlichut”, a sense of mission. Our national holidays remind us that independence requires sacrifices. The army and its legacy await us. But once we cross the bridge into our twenties, the minutiae of daily life take central stage. From heroes-in-training we turn into students and professionals, spouses and parents. We, who grew up preparing to save the world, find ourselves worrying about exams and the cost of cottage cheese.

Why, I thought then, can’t I have a proper challenge? Many of us share this frustration. We dream of being trailblazing leaders and modern day Abrahams, but history chose to give us Isaac’s lot. Like Isaac, we inherited a path from our parents, and the glory of their heroism is out of our reach.

But is Isaac’s lot any less important than Abraham’s? If our generation wouldn’t maintain our predecessors’s achievements, what would remain of them? Furthermore, an established state requires different mores and ideals than a state in the making. The chutzpa that served us well when we struggled to found Israel can’t be relied upon to maintain and improve the country. The emphasis on military heroism is by no means outdated, but we need to invest in other forms of excellence as well. If we don’t make the necessary adaptations, our society will suffer. It is our lot to maintain Israel, it is our “shlichut” to improve upon it.

As we face Isaac’s path, the routines of daily life become important. “We brought you here,” my father said at my wedding, “but it is up to you to build a life here.” Our parents’ heroism  enabled us to establish a living, happy society in Israel. As we participate in civil society, as we interact with each other, as we do our jobs well, we are building Israel from within.

Last night, fourteen Israelis lit torches on Mount Herzl. These men and women represent, to me, people who rose to the challenge of Isaac’s lot. They took what our parents established here and improved upon it through their own private passions and talents. Rami Levi changed our quality of life by breaking the supermarket cartel and lowering the cost of living for millions of Israelis, and Ehud Shabtai made comparable improvements to outsmarting traffic by developing Waze. Lucy Aharish promotes pluralism as Israel’s first Arab news presenter, and Malka Puterkovsky carves new paths for women in Orthodox Judaism. I feel that by honoring such people, we celebrate a new form of heroism, and choose new models to emulate. This is the heroism we need today, if we wish to continue the Zionist endeavor.

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and educator who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, history, and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and other online venues, and explores storytelling in the Hebrew bible as a teacher in Maayan, Torah in Motion, and Matan.
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