On the day Israel was reborn – May 14, 1948 – I was a teenager living in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia. I heard the announcement on the radio as part of the evening news but it registered little more with me than other international events.
My parents had listened to the radio as the UN voted on partition in November 1947, and even though it was an event far removed from our lives, they were so proud that Australia voted in favor of the establishment of the state of Israel. Both of them had been born in Australia, so they couldn’t identify in the same way other Melbourne Jews did, especially those who had survived the Holocaust, yet they understood better than I did what a momentous event it was for the Jewish people.
I remember meeting some of my Jewish friends whose background had given them a better understanding and appreciation of Zionism. I was a bit puzzled at how excited and happy they were. I tried to celebrate with them but I knew, even if they didn’t, that I saw it as something distant – something I could not imagine ever impacting my life.
Today I have an Israeli passport and live in Jerusalem – two facts that are probably the most important statements I can make about myself. In the intervening decades I have traveled thousands of miles in physical distance but in philosophical terms you would have to measure the journey in light years.
In the early 1950s I decided I wanted to travel. I aspired to be a writer, and for me at the time that meant England, with its legacy of Shakespeare, Dickens, Byron, Shelley, Keats – all the role models from my school days.
So I went to London to work and study, and when I went abroad it was to the Continent for holidays in France, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, and Belgium. I am ashamed to say that visiting Israel never even occurred to me.
Eventually I returned to Australia, and by sheer coincidence (or that is what I thought) married a religious, Zionistic Jew who would come to feel that our four children needed contact with Israel to understand that they had their own land and their own people.
So we came to “look around” – and 46 years later are still here, with all our children having served in the IDF, graduated university, married, and given us 18 wonderful Israeli grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
It is tempting to say I fell in love with Israel instantly and our aliyah was an immediate success, but it would not be true. The first few years were traumatic, with enormous culture shock – a drastic drop in our standard of living along with constant worry about the language, the economy, and security.
There was a gnawing homesickness as well – a longing for family, friends, and familiar places; even such trivia as the songs we used to sing, the newspapers we used to read, and the radio programs we had enjoyed all assumed ridiculous importance.
But gradually the feelings changed. The Yom Kippur War in 1973 had an enormous impact. The whole country drew together, and despite the fear and the tragedy it was wonderful to see Israel become a family, supportive and caring. I felt for the first time that “these are my people.” We celebrated victories together and grieved over the boys who were killed defending the country – they were all our sons.
As the strange grew increasingly familiar, I became involved with Israel in a way I had never been involved with my birthplace. Everything that happened, good or bad, was significant to me personally. Sometimes, such as after the Entebbe rescue, I walked ten feet tall. In the aftermath of terrorist attacks, and there have been too many to enumerate, I would grow angry at a world that shrugged its shoulders at our anguish yet dared to condemn us when we retaliated.
Independence Day over the years has assumed enormous importance. There is such a feeling of pride when I see the flags flying from cars and buildings all over the country. When I hear the words of “Hatikvah” being sung, even now, there are tears in my eyes.
It is a day we start looking forward to the minute Pesach is over, and we plan barbecues and trips and a kumzitz around the campfire, where we sing Israeli songs as we roast onions and potatoes in the ashes. We thrill to the fireworks.
It is a day to be with family and already we have agreed to converge at my daughter’s home near Ashdod for a barbecue and family get-together. We will drive there from our homes in various cities and settlements and we will put Israeli flags in the windows of our cars and on our balconies. And with all the other citizens of this tiny, brave country we will revel in the fact that not only have we survived for 69 years, against all odds, but have achieved mightily in almost every field of human endeavor.
Once, if someone had asked me, I probably would have described myself as a writer, a sometime poet, a dreamer, an idealist. I am still those things, although a few dreams got misplaced along the way and some of the idealism has toughened into realism.
At times the government here has made decisions that hurt and disappointed me, and occasionally, as is true in every society, I’ve seen instances of injustice. The bureaucracy can be infuriating and the quality of life often leaves room for improvement,
Yet now if you asked me that same question my answer would be: “I’m an Israeli.” And I would say it with pride and without regret.