Our very existence is worth mentioning as an achievement… but there’s so much more.Life in Israel is an emotional roller-coaster. When we’re up, we’re riding high with a clear view; but when we’re low, we seem to scrape the dirt.
Haim Gouri, the archetypical Israeli safra vesaifa – writer and fighter – told me in an interview marking the 60th anniversary of The Jerusalem Post: “We are a people of ups and downs, euphoria and pathos, pride and pique. Everything about us is drastic. Look even at the weather: We had snowstorms and brilliant sunshine in the same month this year . Every day there is a sudden sunrise and an equally dramatic sunset, but there is no twilight. Hazal [Sages] wrote: ‘The Jewish People is compared to the dust of the ground and to the stars of the sky. When they sink, they sink down to the dust; when they rise, they rise into the stars.’”
This time of year as Independence Day approaches, Gouri’s words always resonate. One of those “Only in Israel” experiences is that incredible combination of sad and happy as the ceremonies for Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and terror victims fuse back-to-back with the Yom Ha’atzma’ut festivities, this year on April 23.
The extremeness is infectious: The world, it seems, either loves us or hates us, unfortunately too often the latter.
This year, undoubtedly, was not one of the easiest for this proud nation – but it doesn’t mean we have to abandon all reasons to be proud. A 59th birthday is an ambivalent occasion – still, it gives us a year to get into a suitable mood for our 60th anniversary.
What a difference a year makes: The day after Independence Day last year, on May 4, the 31st government of Israel was sworn in.
New prime ministers are traditionally given a 100-day period of grace – known in Hebrew as mea yemei hessed. Ehud Olmert, who had already had his 100 days in office due to Ariel Sharon’s stroke, did not get even that. He might have thought his toughest challenge would be quieting the opposition and holding together his fragile coalition with Labor. Ultimately, as we all know – hindsight being the flavor of the year – it was the out-of-the-blue attack on northern Israel, for which he was so clearly unprepared, that rocked his political career and shook the country’s faith in the leadership.
The corruption scandals, sex scandals, The War, the Kassams; the kidnapped IDF soldiers; spreading poverty. This has not been Israel’s finest hour.
Ups and downs are to be expected on the political and establishment merry-go-round anywhere, let alone in Israel where swinging from high to low is a way of life. But who would have thought that from one Independence Day to the next we would have a new IDF chief of staff, new police chief and the need for a stand-in president?
Who would have imagined that the hottest name in politics and social affairs would be Arkadi Gaydamak, a Russian-speaking billionaire immigrant who helped look after the ‘refugees’ from the war and is planning a huge, free Independence Day bash?
Who would have considered that Labor leader Amir Peretz, previously better known for fighting the security establishment for funds for a social agenda, would this year be the defense minister, with no real reason to celebrate as he awaits the findings of the Winograd Report into his functioning during the war and the Labor leadership primaries, which will help determine his political future?
As we blow out the Remembrance Day candles and prepare for Independence Day’s fireworks displays, it seems almost natural this year to add the Shehechiyanu blessing, praising God “for keeping us alive, sustaining us and bringing us to this moment.”
For after all, we’ll still here, battle-scarred but not beaten.
Our very existence is worth mentioning as an achievement – if only for the pleasure of annoying our many enemies. The fact that we can celebrate Independence Day at all, albeit wiping away a tear for those who gave their lives and didn’t make it to the country’s 59th birthday, is noteworthy.
Hizbullah’s Hassan Nasrallah threw some nasty surprises in the form of Katyushas; Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems set on dropping something even worse. But on April 24 there will be parties, barbecues, nature trips and celebrations.
We’re on a roller-coaster, but the screams of fear are mixed with laughter. For the most part, we’re enjoying the ride.
People abroad often forget that most Israelis live ordinary lives worrying about ordinary things: family, health, finances. We argue about politics. And how. But it is a family argument. And at least we aren’t concerned about the neighbors hearing the shouting.
There’s terrorism, but we don’t have to deal with anti-Semitism. Indeed, we’re free to laugh at ourselves with famous Jewish humor and don’t have to worry whether saying things like “famous Jewish humor” is insulting.
In previous years Jerusalem Post columnist Barbara Sofer has done a wonderful job pre-Yom Ha’atzma’ut reminding us of the 50-or-so reasons she loves Israel. The articles still hang – slightly yellowing and stained – on the fridge doors of more than one friend of mine.
They’re a reminder that years come and go; wars come and go; our leaders come and go (with alarming frequency); but the things that make this country great remain.
We’re still concerned about each other. The Katyushas in the north caused perfect strangers (and I use both words in their most literal sense) to open their hearts and homes to others less fortunate. Proving we are truly one family, Diaspora Jews came to offer solidarity and support. New immigrants came to stay.
The dollar weakened, the shekel rode high. In the country that created the phrase “routine emergency situation” – matzav shel shigrat herum – it’s been business as usual. Innovations, investments, construction and development abound. If the Palestinians put as much energy into building their de-facto state as they put into trying to destroy ours, Warren Buffett could make a double deal – investing in Gaza as he did in Galilee – and we’d all be better off for it.
Another year has gone by without our prayers for peace being answered. But despite the prayers of our enemies, we’re still here, not just surviving, but thriving.
And that’s why this Independence Day, as every other, I will hang the blue-and-white flag and raise a glass in that quintessential Jewish toast: “Lehaim – To life!”
(Reprinted with permission from The Jerusalem Post)