Israel at 62: its “wow” factor

The ADL’s Abe Foxman and this writer don’t always see eye to eye. However, on Israel’s 62nd anniversary, I can’t resist quoting his Israel Independence Day/Yom Ha`atzma’ut tribute:

I recently met an old friend who had just returned from an extended stay in Israel. “How is the mood,” I asked him, expecting the worst. “Fantastic,” he exclaimed, “the cafes, the people, the exciting business opportunities. I even test drove the new electric car. Life in Israel is great.”

I was struck by my friend’s exuberant and cheerful report. I had expected him to tell of a dark mood in Israel, of Israelis worried about US-Israel relations, Iran’s nuclear weapons development, the stalled peace process, the campaign to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish State, and of the usual despair over crime, traffic, social problems, religious conflicts and the political crisis de jour.

As someone who is deeply engaged in Israeli affairs – professionally and personally – my focus is generally on day-to-day issues. On any given day at ADL, we grapple with countering resolutions presented at international bodies blaming Israel for the world’s ills, educating the misinformed about Israeli policies, combating initiatives to promote university or church divestment from Israel or to boycott Israeli products at US or European supermarkets, even correcting maps in directories which mark every country in the Middle East but conveniently forget to label the State of Israel. Journalists call me for a perspective on what a breaking news event might portend for relations between Washington and Jerusalem.

I am not alone. When I give speeches around the United States, the worry for Israel’s present and future is often palpable. After all, pick up any major newspaper in the US or abroad and turn on any cable news broadcast, and the coverage of Israel is generally gloom and doom. Straight news pieces highlight the problems confronting Israel. More skewed commentary blames Israel’s policies, approach and sometimes even being.  Has any other country in the world warranted such a magazine cover story: “Will Israel Live to 100”?

But as my friend’s enthusiasm reminds me, these (very legitimate) worries and concerns should never eclipse appreciation and celebration of what Israel is. For someone who has been visiting Israel regularly since the 1950s, just seeing the transformation of the country into what it is today makes me stop every trip to say, “Wow!” Israel’s major metropolitan cities have transformed from proverbial dusty backwaters to world-class centers. In just over six short decades, Israelis have built a cutting-edge modern democratic state, with an exciting cultural and social scene, and whose innovations in science, medicine, agriculture, ecology and technology are the envy of the international community. And the people – diverse, divergent, complicated and never boring!

And so, on this Yom Haatzmaut, let all us pro-Israel advocates, news junkies and armchair analysts take a lesson from my friend. Let us commit to keeping active on Israel’s challenges, but to never lose sight of all there is to cherish and enjoy about Israel. As we remember each Yom Hazikaron, Israel has sacrificed a lot to get to its 62nd year, but we also owe it to all who contributed to the building of this great state to ensure that Israel’s assets, and not its problems, are what defines this fantastic country.

See also Benji Lovitt’s humorous tribute to his adopted homeland: 62 more reasons why I love Israel. A commenter points out that this year, Independence Day (which is observed by the Jewish calendar) happens to coincide with the birthday of the Jews’ worst persecutor in recent history.

In the words of Theodor Herzl: Im tirtzu ein zu agada — if you want, it is not a fairytale. Often this phrase is (mis)translated: “it is not a dream”. A fairy tale is a dream that cannot be made real. Warts and all, Israel is real. May she endure forever.

Yom Atzma’ut sameach!

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