THE period known as Yamim Noraim is an appropriate occasion for a heavy dose of introspection and contemplative stock-taking, especially about a country we love and at a time when the unceasing assault on the very legitimacy of the only Jewish state in the world is only getting worse.
Of course, in such a hostile environment any ink poured to celebrate Israel will be decried by the critics who obsessively zero in on the country’s shortcomings, applying a biased double standard of conduct they apply to no one else.
I disagree with philosopher Eric Hoffer who wrote, “Our achievements speak for themselves. What we have to keep track of are our failures, discouragement and doubts.”
I wonder, do young people ever pause to consider how far this tiny nation, against all the odds, has come in 71 years?
My bond with Israel is as much part of me as anything else. I cry when she cries, and cheer when she is victorious.
As a kid, growing up in Beersheva, the sense of triumph-in-adversity taught at my local primary school would animate us all.
Truth is, this fire still burns deep inside, as Martin Peretz’s beautiful statement that Zionism was, “The God that did not fail” often booms in my heart.
I fondly remember the sea of families pouring into the streets during Yom Ha’atzmaut to watch the sky light up and listen to the local bands belt out tunes in parks and community centres in parties that would last all night.
The piercing cry of a ram’s horn that ushered in celebrations in a twilight ceremony atop Mount Herzl is a sight still ablaze in my memory. On another occasion, I braved the haze of a shimmering heat in the Negev desert and sang about a “nefesh yehudi” and being “a free people in our land” shoulder to shoulder with classmates.
At school, we were taught that in Israel’s Declaration of Independence it reads, “We extend our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness.”
We prayed that the lingering conflict between Israel and the Arab world, especially the Palestinian question, would be resolved once for all.
Still today, I continue to recite this prayer.
One of the things I miss about Israel are the thousands of blue-and-white Israeli flags hanging from balconies and fluttering from car windows on busy highways and in the bustling streets.
I was raised at a time when parents and grandparents spoke about Israel’s heroic feats, when we sat mesmerised hearing about the extraordinary period when ‘Eretz Yisrael’ established itself in the midst of invading armies that tried, time and again, to wipe it off the map.
We learned how Israel threw open its doors to the survivors of the Holocaust and to Jews from all corners of the earth yearning to end two millennia of painful exile and return to their ancestral homeland.
These refugees, fleeing persecution, went on to forge a new future together, making the desert blossom and ensuring that the fate of the Jewish people would never again rest solely in others’ hands
For my generation, Israel’s survival was no mean feat.
We embraced Yaacov Herzog’s words, “The still small voice of Israel reborn has a significance overreaching the criterion of material capacity … Israel is a vindication of faith,” or Abba Eban’s magisterial statement that Israel “goes beyond an achievement. We are a colossal success”.
Sadly, too many people take this epic narrative for granted.
Yet, the story of Israel is also an emotional rollercoaster for many of us since we shed tears for the more than 23,000 soldiers who fell in pre and post-state battles and the victims of terrorist campaigns.
As my late grandfather, who fought alongside Menachem Begin in the Irgun, told me, “You can’t celebrate nationhood without first mourning its cost.”
As a boy, watching traffic come to a halt, and standing to attention with fellow Israelis while the mournful siren echoes and silences of Remembrance Day wail loud, made us feel like the luckiest people in the world.
Only when we look past the daily political crises and disputes can we truly assess the magnitude of the deeds of this modern miracle.
Israel’s accomplishments came through intelligence, grit and driven tenacity – qualities that are still part of the sabra character.
A modern, multinational democracy, in a region where that value is all too scarce, it boasts a thriving high-tech sector, a dynamic economy, and an open society.
The debate in cafes and on the bustling streets is vibrant and raucous, and the fact that Israel comprises a multitude of ethnic and religious groups with their own diversity and division, attests to the country’s normality.
A rocky land with a rocky history. Not the land of nicey-nice.
And despite all the interior cleavages, it is more cohesive than its founders dared to hope.
What the clueless keyboard ‘warriors’ simply don’t get is that Israelis long for unity, not uniformity.
Complaining and self-searching are a venerable tradition, or as Israeli journalist Tom Segev put it, “Grumbling is an integral part of Israel’s story.”
For every gripe there is a profound pride verging on awe in which Israelis hold the marvel that is Israel today.
Yes, there are cyclopean internal and external challenges that keep Israelis awake in the middle of the night.
But whatever happens, Israel, with so much going for it, will continue to prosper and stand as a beacon of hope and freedom.
And I would bet that this remarkable success story surely makes Kings Saul, David and Solomon – who ruled over the previous commonwealths of Israel and are probably watching from above – very proud.
Dvir Abramovich is chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission and the author of six books. His latest publication is Fragment of Hell: Israeli Holocaust Literature.