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Happy Belated 61st, Israel

Yesterday, Israel celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day. Across the country, people gathered in celebration. There was singing, dancing, drinking (this may very well have preceded the singing and dancing), fire-works, and everyone’s favorite Israeli musicians. It was a time to … Read More

By / April 30, 2009

Yesterday, Israel celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day. Across the country, people gathered in celebration. There was singing, dancing, drinking (this may very well have preceded the singing and dancing), fire-works, and everyone’s favorite Israeli musicians. It was a time to let loose and for a short 24 hours, ignore reality. But when the smoke cleared and the cacophony subsided one couldn’t help but acknowledge that even now, 61 years after the birth of the modern state of Israel, it’s not easy being Israeli.

People often comment that the average Israeli looks about 10 years older than the average American of the same age. Granted the anti-smoking campaign hasn’t caught on in Israel and people drive as if they’re annoyed that the government would dare to inconvenience them with traffic laws, but these can’t be the only reasons for the disparity. Israelis look so much older than they should because their country is surrounded by governments and terror-organizations-in the case of Hamas and Hizbollah these are one and the same-hell bent on, "driving the Jews into the sea" or to quote the current president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "wiping Israel off the map." To the south west and north, respectively, are Hamas and Hizbollah, both trained and funded by Iran. To the North-East is hostile Syria, which also backs Hizbollah and hosts Hamas’ current leader, the exiled Khaled Meshal. The West Bank, on Israel’s eastern front, is run by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, whose leader Mahmoud Abbas made a speech on Tuesday expressly refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state: "A Jewish state, what is that supposed to mean?" asked Abbas. "…I don’t accept it and I say so publicly." Abbas, who at one point denied the existence of the Holocaust, is considered "a moderate." No, it doesn’t take a pessimistic outlook on life to conclude that for Israel-the one Jewish country in the world-the prospect of peace is pretty bleak.

And yet given where Israel was 61 years ago, we might also conclude that things could be a whole lot bleaker. It had just emerged victorious from a War of Independence, but was (and is) vastly outnumbered by its enemies, and was not, in these early days, backed by any major powers. Many felt Israel would not be able to withstand the odds against it. Four high impact wars and countless skirmishes later, Israel is not only still standing, but remains the most powerful country in the Middle East. For Jews, this alone should be reason to celebrate. But for some reason, many Jews across the world did not feel the need to celebrate. A short article entitled, Independence Day Around the World, in yesterday’s Israeli daily Ha’aretz notes that, "Yom Ha’atzmaut must be the only holiday that the Jewish World doesn’t feel the need to celebrate together." This observation, which is troubling, is not surprising when we consider that the Jews of the diaspora are as indifferent as ever to the plight of Israel according to recent poles conducted by the American Jewish Committee and other Jewish organizations. I can’t speak for Jews of other nationalities, but perhaps it’s difficult for the average American Jew, who grows up uninhibited by anti-Semitism in a relatively secular and prosperous community, to fully appreciate what an independent Jewish state means to the Jewish people. How can we American Jews wrap our minds around the fact less than 70 years ago, the Jews of Europe were almost completely annihilated by a genocidal maniac? The violence and harassment that is regularly perpetrated against the Jews of Israel, Venezuela, France, Britain, and Denmark – where a public school principal recently told Jewish parents to keep their kids home because he and his staff could not guarantee their safety- is so foreign that it’s difficult for us to accept. How can it be that the anti-Semitism that our grandparents and great-grandparents worked so hard to outrun is alive and well and threatens even the world’s one Jewish state? Consider the following, a brief biography of my Israeli friend: Maayan Gutfeld is almost 23 years old. Her warm and upbeat manner belie the fact that in her short time on this earth, she has endured plenty of tragedy. Four of her childhood friends have died of unnatural causes. Her father suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder thanks to time spent in Egypt as a P.O.W. during the Yom Kippur War. Many of her closest friends, including her boyfriend and roommate, also show signs of PTSD. War, terror attacks, and military service have taken their tole on her life and the lives of those around her. She is a typical Israeli. It’s hard to imagine how different American Jewish attitudes towards Israel would be if a significant percentage of American Jews were living something resembling Maayan’s life. We can only be grateful that we don’t have to, and appreciative of those who live that life on our behalf.

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