June 2008

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Israel 60
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Leora Shirit waving the Israeli flag on her Ima's shoulders.
News and Opinion

Meditations on Israel 60
A young mother in Jerusalem considers the Life on The Land

-- Marne Shirit Rochester

A few weeks ago I was asked to write a piece for Israel’s 60th. It was very hard. There’s a mood and a frustration in Israel. My article at times came across as depressed with the security situation, at times angry with the way the world judges us, and at times proud of all our accomplishments. But then after I wrote it, I started thinking about quintessential Israeliness. Here are a few examples that highlight what an Israeli is.

  • I recently went to the bank and had to wait a bit because the guy in front of me was discussing with the teller a medical condition he has and she was giving him recipes that would help it. I waited patiently and smiled to myself, thinking this is not a bad reason to be waiting.
  • I was on a bus where an older woman got on a youth did not get up to give her his seat (which is rare in Israel). The driver stopped the bus, made the kid get up, gave him a lecture, and threatened to drive straight to the police station if it happened again. Everyone on the bus got into the conversation and said the driver was absolutely right.
  • I was on a bus on a major highway and the traffic started slowing down. Apparently, there had been an accident. The slowing of the traffic was not due to “rubber-necking” but rather to cars stopping to see if they could help.
  • When Leora was an infant I was took her out for a walk. One of my neighbors told me I had too much clothing on her. Another friend told me not enough. One gets a lot of unsolicited parenting advice in Israel; everyone looks at all the children as their responsibility – Leora has over 1 million grandparents here.
  • I got off the bus with Leora and had not completely opened up the stroller correctly. A man in his 70s noticed it and started coming over to fix it when I noticed.

Tonight at 8:00 pm, the country stood as one while sirens sounded from the northern most city of Metulla to the southern most city of Eilat, marking the beginning of Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. Since 1860, when the first Jewish settlers began establishing Jewish neighborhoods outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, 22,437 men and women have been killed in defense of the Land of Israel, 65 since the last Yom HaZikaron. A few years ago, legislation was passed to include victims of terrorism on Memorial Day. 1,634 civilians have been killed, 24 in the last year, in terrorist attacks since the creation of the state in 1948. Among them, I remember my friend and co-worker Janis Coulter and co-worker Revital Barashi who were killed at the bombing at Hebrew University in 1990. I also remember my friend’s flat-mate Sarah Drucker who was killed with her fiancé Matthew Eisenfeld on a bus in 1996.

When the sirens went off, I took Leora in my arms and hugged her tight. She asked me “What happened?” I told her, “We’re remembering the soldiers who protected us from the bad people so we don’t get hurt.” I then started thinking about how to explain this further to kids and realized that almost all the father’s in the gan do miluim (reserve duty), and there’s a chance that we will be remembering one of them one Yom HaZikaron in the future.

President Shimon Peres spoke at the ceremony at the Kotel, Western Wall. He summed up the national feeling when saying, “We want to end wars and continue the Zionist movement's vision. We want to shake our neighbors' hands, but we know, when necessary, to pull the trigger.”

The last two days on the way to work I looked up in the sky and saw the Israeli Air Force practicing for the Israel Independence Day exercises. Thursday they will do fly-overs over the whole country and have a few air shows throughout the country. Looking up at the heavens and seeing them, I couldn’t help but to get teary-eyed and swell up with pride. Looking around at the other people on the street, I noticed I was not the only one. After 2,000 years of exile and persecution, here we are in Israel, celebrating 60 years of the reestablishment of an independent Jewish state in our homeland. Wow!

In Leora’s gan, Theodore Herzl, the father of the modern Zionist movement, came to visit last week and talked to them about his vision for Israel, “Im tirzu, ayn zo agadah, lihot am hofshi b’artzenu, b’eretz Tzion Yerushalayim” (If you will it, it is no dream, to be a free people in our land, the land of Tzion Jerusalem). (As the real Herzl died in 1904, I’m guessing it was Rabbi Barry dressed up with a long black beard.)

I explained to Leora that Israel is celebrating her 60th birthday. We then started singing an Israeli birthday song to Israel, and she took the flag and started waving it and dancing. We’ve attached the flag to her stroller. On the way to gan, she points out all the Israeli flags on the cars and buildings and we start singing “Kol Ha’Aretz Degalim” (All the Land is Flags) or “HaDegel Sheli Hu Kichol v’Lavan” (My Flag is Blue and White). There are a lot of traffic signs in blue and white and she sometimes points to those as well and shouts “Degel Yisrael!” (Flag of Israel).

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