July 23, 2006

The sound of building, not destruction, is what Israelis prefer above all others. We got up and out of the house early today, just before the pounding began. I don’t mean the Katyushas that have been harming our countrymen, friends, and relatives in the North, but what we call the ‘chunka chunka’ machine, a noisy pile driver that is digging a deep hole for a new apartment building across the street from ours.

The pile driver bangs away all day, from 7 a.m. to about 7 p.m., and on Fridays, too. The builder seems to be in a hurry to get his new apartment complex in the ground.

We needed to be out early to attend a ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport marking the arrival of 250 North American olim (new immigrants), among them a young cousin of mine.

The flight was the 17th ‘boatload’ of North American immigrants to Israel organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh (Soul to Soul), a five-year-old private agency that has revolutionized the way Americans move to Israel operating in cooperation with the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The ceremony was admirably well organized, with ample shade, food, water bottles, Israeli flags, balloons, and even candy for the kids. One of the speakers made the offhand remark that Ben-Gurion Airport is probably the only airport in the world that is set up to welcome groups of immigrants with moving ceremonies.

We all rushed to one side of the open-sided hangar on the tarmac to see the gleaming white El Al 777 airplane release its passengers. Shouts rang out as people recognized friends and relatives. A roar went up from the crowd of more than 500 when one exuberant new oleh jumped up and down and waved his arms as he emerged from the plane at the top of the staircase.

A few minutes later we all rushed to where the new arrivals were coming into the area set aside for the ceremony. Applause, cheers, and tears broke out as the newcomers pressed through the tightly packed throngs and broke out of the narrow corridor as they found their greeters. We hugged our cousin tightly when we saw him.

The symbolism of today’s arrival is too obvious to be missed: North Americans giving up their cushy existence in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave for a more difficult life in the dusty foothills of their ancient forefathers in a time of war. When much of Beirut has been reduced to rubble, firefights are flashing across the Israel-Lebanon border, hundreds of Israelis have been injured, and thousands are in and out of bomb shelters, dozens of families are beginning new lives with joy and courage.

I don’t generally agree with Bibi Netanyahu, one of the welcoming speakers, but I’m happy to quote him today: “Aliyah is the answer to Hizbullah.” For once, he’s right. Israel, still a small country, needs all the immigrants it can get.

That’s not to overcome the alleged demographic time bomb (that is, the purported eventual majority of Arabs in the land of Israel because of higher Arab birthrates). Nor is it to become cannon fodder for the IDF.

Most of the immigrants I saw today – with the exception of a few like my cousin, who has already served in the Army and will do his reserve duty – are too old to join the Army, even though their children probably will.

It’s because the immigrants are choosing meaningful lives of building the Jewish state for themselves and future generations over their materially richer lives in what I like to call the ‘Old Country’. It’s a needed reminder of the idealism that built this country, and that idealism is not dead.

Obviously, all of today’s immigrants began planning their trip months or even years ago, and their arrival today was coincidental. Or was it?

Our morale is high: There is a great deal of unity in the country, and support for the necessary but difficult task of reducing Hizbullah’s power to rubble without destroying all of Lebanon. We need to clip Syria’s and Iran’s wings without drawing them into a Doomsday battle.

This won’t be the final battle; this is not Armageddon come to life (death?) out of the pages of the Bible. This one of the periodic efforts to remind the Arab world that Israel is (1) strong, (2) united, and (3) here to stay. It’s not a lesson that lasts forever. As they say, in every generation some descendant of Amalek rises up with the intention of destroying Israel and the Jewish people.

But the sooner we get finished with knocking down the Katyushas the sooner we can get back to our real work: Building the Jewish state and securing the future of the Jewish people.

When we returned home, the ‘chunka chunka’ machine was still banging away. I listened to it with fresh appreciation: It was the sound of building, not destruction, a sound we in Israel prefer above all others.

(Originally appeared on Ynetnews.com)

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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