Jews all over the world celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day – even those who have no intention of ever making aliyah and many of whom have never even visited Israel.
“It’s a kind of insurance policy,” one overseas friend told me. “By supporting Israel financially and emotionally, I know that its sanctuary is available to me or my children or grandchildren should the need ever arise.”
I find this kind of thinking very sad, because Israel is so much more than a refuge for persecuted Jews. Not every immigrant who has built a life here was escaping from the horror of the Holocaust, the tyranny behind the Iron Curtain or the cruelty of life in an Arab country. Many of us – the ones Israelis refer to as “Anglo-Saxim” – lowered their standard of living significantly when they settled in Israel, yet found something here that enhanced our quality of life even as we struggled with inflation, mortgages and trying to make miniscule salaries stretch to the end of the month.
We have found here a family – our own people. Of course, just like any family, we fight – about religion, politics, the settlements. The fights can be very bitter yet, at bottom, we care about each other and bond together when we face a common problem or enemy. We celebrate together and sometimes even have to grieve together. Basically, when the going gets rough, we are on the same side. We express our identity as Jews in different ways, but it is the same identity.
We have found here a beautiful country, unique in the variety of its scenery and climate. Mediterranean beaches banded by azure and indigo water and white sands, coral reefs, dense forests, wooded mountains, deserts and rivers and waterfalls, the shimmering mirrored glass of the Dead Sea, fields carpeted with wildflowers – and Jerusalem, the priceless jewel.
Some of us have found here a spirituality that we would never have been able to achieve abroad. Anyone who has been in Israel on Yom Kippur, when the whole country comes to a standstill for the day, cannot doubt the kedushah, the holiness of Eretz Israel. It is intangible, yet it is an undeniable presence.
We have found here a pride in the remarkable achievements of our relatively smaller and less-developed nation. We teach agriculture to the world, and come to other people’s rescue in times of natural or human-made disasters. We are rich in poets, writers, musicians, actors and artists. We can boast industrial and high-tech entrepreneurs and brilliant scientists. When any new Israeli invention captures the world’s imagination, somehow we all bask in the reflected glory.
Israelis have always been compared to the sabra, the cactus with the thorny exterior but the soft heart. We celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut in many ways: campfires and singing, picnics, a Bible quiz, concerts, music and dancing in the streets. We spend the day with family and friends and relish every moment of it. But it is more than just enjoyment.
On every building and on almost every balcony flies the Israeli flag, its blue stripes and Magen David bright against the white background. For days beforehand and a week afterwards, the flag flies from every car on the road. Ceremonies open with the singing of Hatikvah, The Hope, Israel’s national anthem. Most of us sing it standing straight and proud, and often with tears in our eyes as we remember the broken people who found a safe haven here, and those who never managed to reach its shores and died with the dream of Zion in their hearts. And we also remember the brave men and women who gave their lives in all of Israel’s wars and in the pre-state days, the fighters and pioneers who fashioned this wonderful land that we have inherited.
Shin Shalom, one of Israel’s greatest poets, expressed it for all of us in “Mother Jerusalem Singing,” which he wrote a day after the Yom Kippur War in 1973: “Love forever, glow forever / cherish, yearn, preserve the kernel / of an everlasting nation, of a heritage eternal.”
Dvora Waysman is a Jerusalem-based author. She has written 14 books, including The Pomegranate Pendant, which was made into a movie, and her latest novella, Searching for Sarah. She can be contacted at [email protected] or through her blog dvorawaysman.com.