Uncovering Awe and Joy in Israel
“Ima, I’m eating breakfast. It tastes like home. I want to live here forever.”
The simplicity and joy of my daughter’s phone call from her first morning in Israel keeps replaying in my head. It is a balm on my soul and a window into the blessing that is the State of Israel.
Today, Israel celebrates 67 years since its founding. For many, the initial thrill that a Jewish state could possibly come into existence has given way to the complex realities of nation building, security, economic growth and world politics. And these complexities have opened up nuances and ambivalences.
My daughter’s call was a reminder not to disregard the simplicity. Because, even if we acknowledge the complexity, there is so much to celebrate.
If my daughter had had time, the call was all of a minute and a half, I would have shared with her that the Israeli breakfast she devoured so lovingly is the product of the daily rhythms and realities of the early agricultural settlers. These young European Jews would head out to work the fields before the heat of the sun was unbearable. They would return to a big breakfast whose focus on milk products, fruits and vegetables came from the limited options that were available. Simple foods, the product of their own hands, the product of their land, came to taste like home.
Home is an important element in the wonder that is the State of Israel. My husband, a chaperone on my daughter’s trip, relayed an encounter with a doctor in a small northern town. The doctor, a man in his eighties, had his office in his apartment on the top floor of a walk up apartment building. Waiting for the physician to finish with the student, my husband looked through an impressive library. Among the books were a Zionist encyclopedia, German language medical journals, English classics, as well as volumes in Arabic and Polish that he could not identify. When the doctor finished with the treatment, my husband asked about the Polish. Informed that the gentleman had been born in Poland, my husband asked when he had come to Israel. “In 1949, on one of the first boats.”
70 years ago, when the concentration camps across Europe were finally liberated, those who survived did not have a home to which to return. The majority would wait three long years in yet another series of camps before the State of Israel was founded and they we able to come and settle permanently. Since then, Israel has continued fulfilled its mission, albeit with some bumps, of being a haven to Jews from the four corners of the world. Israel is the most diverse Jewish community in the world. As we witness Antisemitism on the rise in many quarters, we know that every Jew has a potential home.
My daughter breezily tells me she wants to live in Israel forever. Forever is a long time, longer than anyone of us has, even my darling girl. But many in Israel are working towards forever. There are solar fields blooming in its desserts. There is drip irrigation to make efficient use of water. Israeli cities recycle three quarters of their water. It is not perfect, but it is an important start.
I’m sure that as the days pass, the naive enthusiasm of my daughter’s first day in Israel will give way to mixed experiences and emotions. Such is the inevitable way of prolonged travel and of nation building. But I’m holding on to her initial impression because it captures some important truths. I don’t eschew the complexity that is the reality of modern Israel, but I also don’t let it obscure the wonder and the joy. Even after 67 years, the founding of the State of Israel is very worth celebrating.