Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Reflections on Yom Ha'atzmaut

There are times when I commit the ultimate sin:  I lose hope.  I read the Israeli and American media coverage of Israel, and I think -- there is no way that Israel can handle its many challenges, domestic and foreign.  There are times when I am co-opted by the bias against the Jewish State, and I can only see the negative, the hardships, and the ostensible mistakes.

And then I close my eyes, and remember what it is to be there.  I recall the incredible people who shaped my life for the years I lived there -- the thoughtful and innovative students at Ben Gurion University Hillel who were blunt and introspective about their challenges in realizing Israel's potential, the American immigrants in Jerusalem fighting for a more egalitarian society and place for secular culture in Israel's capital city, my teachers at the Hebrew Union College who taught me not only the intricacies of Hebrew grammar, but how to continue teaching when your husband is on the battlefield in Lebanon, the secular Israelis claiming and reinventing Judaism in Tel Aviv...  I remember the late night discussions with Israelis of all political and ethnic backgrounds about the struggle to build a country, defend it, and retain a sense of self in the most ethically challenging wars one could imagine.  I remember one of the most important lessons that I love hearing from Yehudit Ravitz, "the things you can see from here, you can't see from there."

When I am there, I am ebullient and inspired by the evolution and flourishing of Hebrew culture, by the pride and security I feel -- a result of the fact that through Zionism we have taken our fate into our own hands.  As a people, we have have taken on the necessary challenge of shaping and securing our own future in the only land we can call our own.  No act of terror or war can undermine that deep sense of security and profound spiritual comfort that I carry with me -- they run much deeper than a temporary moments of aggression.  I am well aware that Israel is not perfect, but it is extraordinary. I am reminded of that fact each time I discover another story of an incredible Israeli citizen or enterprise making the world a better place despite facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

There are times, when even in America, I encounter the stories of Israel that affirm and feed my faith in the Jewish State.  Below is a story of a soldier younger than most of my students at Colby who tends to injured Syrian refugees on the Israeli border.  She is humble, guided by Jewish values, and courageous.  Honored by President Shimon Peres today on Israel's 66th birthday, she showcases Israel's greatest and only natural resource: it's amazing citizens.  Her story, among so many others, brings me to where I need to be this day: proud to be a Jew, proud to be a Zionist, and deeply thankful that I live in a world where Israel exists and achieves the miraculous every day.

Let us remember the words of president John F. Kennedy on this incredible day, "For Israel was not created in order to disappear - Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom; and no area of the world has ever had an overabundance of democracy and freedom."

May we all rejoice in Israel's past, present, and incredible future today.  Yom Ha'atzmaut Sameach!