Pride is in the air!
“As long as deep in the heart,
The soul of a Jew yearns,
And forward to the east
To Zion, an eye looks.”
—Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem
Driving around Israel these past few days offers an emotional experience, almost spiritual. All streets are decorated for festivity—blue and white flags hang from each home and building, huge banners announce celebrations and carnivals, all in honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary.
There is an ancient rabbinic teaching that the Torah has 70 faces. The sages could easily have been speaking about contemporary Israel. Each of Israel’s faces reveals a fascinating country, enriched by an ongoing flow of energy, creativity and excitement. Much of what is happing is a direct result of necessity. A harsh reality forces us to be the start up nation. The ability to harness our hardness and turn it into a positive force, rather than use it as an excuse for backwardness is unique to Israel, something born of a people who have been struggling throughout their existence yet always seem to overcome each and every challenge, leaving them stronger in so many ways.
Growing up in Israel gives me the advantage of an intimate familiarity with this country and its people. I worked in different cities, moved around for school, toured and traveled along its length and breadth, hiked all its trails, touched every stone, inhaled its air—on days when it was thick with gunfire and hatred, and on days when it was light and fresh, filled with possibility.
I am blessed to be surrounded by the souls who make up this country. The people of Israel, my people. Native-born Israelis coexist side by side with newcomers from 100 different countries—Jews sharing one hope, the same desire to build a land, to create a home.
With the risk of sounding trite, on this holy day of Israel’s 70th anniversary, I will allow myself a moment to be effusive and sentimental. I am deeply in love with this country. I love it for all its wonders and blessings, for its beauty and richness, for its past and present, for its values and diversity, for being my home, for being our Jewish homeland.
On this sacred day of Yom Haatzmaut I shed the typical cynicism we Israelis are known for; I invite you all to join me in seeing our homeland through fresh eyes, newly opened. Not as a fantasy Jewish Disneyland failing to stand up to romantic unrealistic expectations, not as an experiential Jewish utopia, but as a real land that for 70 years has reveled in its 70 faces, which crown her with a glory and splendor it so well deserves.
Challenges exist; is there a place where they do not? However, these are our challenges, we own them, and we will overcome them—together. These challenges keep motivating us to better our home, aspire us to work harder, invest more, care more, dream bigger, together. Not for a second do these challenges take away anything from our connection, from this special bond between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. On the contrary, they should strengthen the ties, the shared responsibility, and the sense of belonging.
Nothing of this would be possible without the painful sacrifice of 23,646 men and women who have given their lives in battle while protecting our home and 3134 Israelis perished in terror attacks while living out their daily lives. As the siren cried yesterday on Memorial Day, ripping across Israel’s skies, white clouds of mercy and compassion carried our gratitude and appreciation onto the forever-young men and women we owe so much to.
Today our JCCs, from west to east, north to south celebrate Israel’s independence through festivals and parades, concerts and feasts, ceremonies and Israel trips, a miraculous testimony to the bond with the State of Israel.
Imagine the sounds and lights carried throughout North America by hundreds of thousands JCC members cheering for Israel, waving blue and white flags in what eventually will be an endless call of unity and pride joined by millions of Jews worldwide as they celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary.
Last night I had the honor of attending the nation’s main Yom Haatzamut ceremony at Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. As my soldier daughter marched with hundreds of Israeli soldiers, taking an oath to honor, respect and protect our Jewish state, I felt great privilege to be part of our nation, to belong to the Jewish people, to stand across Herzl’s grave and sing Hatikva, our anthem, along with thousands of Israelis, my heart filled with gratitude and joy.
Pride is in the air, and it is the air we all inhale today!
“Our hope will not be lost,
The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free nation in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem”—Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem
Chag sameach, Yisrael; happy holiday Israel!
See here a special Yom HaAtzmaut Koololam, an organization that brings together Israelis from across all ages, races, religions, and demographics for mass singing, put together this exemplary project in honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary
Leah Garber, Vice President. Director, JCC Israel Center