In Babi-Yar, Kiev, tens of thousands of Jews were murdered for being Jewish exactly 70 years ago.
A small plaque erected 30 years ago dedicates a forest in Israel to their memory. I noticed it as we were departing the Independence Day picnic.
Today Israel is 63 year old. Those who are determined to extend Israel the honor she deserves say she is actually 3,063 year old. Israel is a modern country with a very long and rich history.
There are 7,746,000 people living in the Jewish State, two percent more than last year. The 5.8M of Israel’s population who are Jewish showed a slight decline over last year, 1.6M are a growing population of Arabs and 320,000 not registered as Jewish with the Ministry of Interior.
Once there were Independence Day parades by the Israel Defense Forces, but these stopped 38 years ago. So how does Israel celebrate her birthday today?
How does any one of us celebrate one’s birthday? Birthday wishes. Maybe a special lunch or dinner at a favorite restaurant, including a “surprise” cake with a candle. Presents. A friend of mine likes to give others presents on her birthday, which for her is the greatest gift.
In Israel, the Fifth Day of the Month of Iyar, Israel’s Independence Day, is very special. It is the day that unites all Israelis, Jews and non-Jews alike, in a unique celebration of existence. Their Israel is the country and a home to call their own, and the only Jewish state to ever exist.
It was Friday, May 14th, 1948. Israel was officially declared at the home of Dizingoff, the Mayor of Tel Aviv. It was not possible to do so in occupied Jerusalem, the Jewish People’s eternal capital. The new country, so long in the making (essentially for half a century by the League of Nations, subject to negotiations between the British and the Arabs, etc.), was immediately attacked.
President Shimon Peres talked about that time:
“Facing armies from Egypt, Syria and Jordan, Israel stood on her own. Isolated and united. Kibbutz members and yeshiva students. Religious and secular. Druze, Muslim, Circassian, and Christian. City-dwellers and those from the countryside. Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Left and right.
“The heavy fighting did not differentiate between them. The enemy’s bullets, that wounded their comrades in bloody battles, could not differentiate between our sons.
“We didn’t seek war. It was imposed upon us. But when we were attacked, we didn’t have the possibility to loose, even one war. And when we won, we returned to seek peace.
“Israel is as strong as ever. We were the first in the world to have an ‘Iron Dome’ that can stop missiles. We have the ability to fly to the heights of space, to dive to the depths of the ocean, and to create a viewing eye not only on our borders but also onto new vistas.
“Wars broke out because the attackers were not aware of Israel’s hidden strength. Today, as well, I suggest to those that are looking for war-do not make the same mistake again. Do not overlook our hidden abilities.
“Israel’s strength lies in her justness. We are prepared to physically defend our land, and morally to defend our heritage.
“The Israeli spirit has a talent to overcome any situation and to prepare for tomorrow.
“At my age I remember hard days and threatening crises. I firmly believe that our spirit has never been broken. We were justified. What seemed like an impossible dream in the first days, is today an amazing reality that is beyond imagination.
“I often wonder if we could ask David Ben Gurion if now is the time to dream again. To dream big. He would have responded that the previous dream was too small. Reality has overtaken it. Now is the time to dream again.”
Now 63 years have passed, and Israel is threatened even more than in 1948. Then the probability of survival was miniscule. Today, the probability of a decisive win is very low (non-existent in fact) according to Meir Dagan, Israel’s recently retired head of Mossad.
Before every major holiday, non-Israeli-Arabs are not permitted into Israel other than for medical emergencies or on a specific, case-by-case basis. Israel becomes, for a short while, what it truly should be, a state for her Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. All others who do not want to be here, do not want Israel to be here, refuse to recognize Israel or think that the very idea of a Jewish State is an abomination, are kept out. Finally, a two-state solution in real time.
Today I felt what “two states for two people” really mean. Israel, free and independent, her enemies kept out, not allowed to enter or to be here. Israel not depending on her enemies to work the land or in construction – making it clear an enemy who wants to destroy her is not welcome in her midst. Soldiers and police officers protecting the population abound. A powerful defense force, ready and able to protect the land and citizens of Israel against any threat.
It is truly a time to decide: Israeli Arabs and other minorities, if you like the status quo of being equal citizens and are willing to remain loyal citizens of the State of Israel, stay, otherwise, this is not your place.
Now you must realize: If you call for and act to destroy the Jewish State, Israel will fight back. Your place is not here, not anywhere in Israel. You are not welcome in Israeli hospitals for treatment, you are not entitled to an Israeli supply of electricity or other “humanitarian aid” and you should be disconnected from the State.
As long as you burn Israeli products and commodities, call for boycotts, to divest from and sanction Israel, her institutions and citizens and prepare to go to war against her, incite your children and youth against Jews and amass military power to be used at the earliest opportunity, Israel is no partner for you.
This is not a game so stay away. Israel is a country both ancient and modern that seeks to live in peace, but surrounded by enemies who await a green light from Iran to attack. They care nothing for life and will stop at nothing before the brutal end.
They have already started burning products, anxious for a modern-day Kristallnacht to turn into burning people. The time is short and the world seems to be happily waiting, even eager to participate.
In the midst of looming threats, how does Israel celebrate her birthday?
Yesterday, on the eve of the holiday, performances were held at major squares across the country. Free of charge, they attracted the public, and many included fireworks. A national ceremony was broadcast from Jerusalem, so those who preferred to stay at home were able to savor the moment on TV.
Even the weather cooperated as the multitudes walked the streets greeted by Israeli flags from every balcony and every car. Children sprayed foam (like shaving cream) on each other and hit each other playfully with inflatable hammers.
On the day itself, 1.5 million Israelis converged on the Sea of Galilee and on the national parks. Many others visited heritage sites and army bases. There were continuous ceremonies broadcast live from the President’s Mansion and various locations. The Israeli Air and Naval Forces saluted from up above and from the Mediterranean. Israelis greeted each other with “Chag Samech” (happy holiday) and spent the day barbequing. Russians, Ethiopians, Arabs, European Jews, Oriental Jews from India, Iran, Iraq Morocco, Yemen and other Arab lands, all fully assimilated, all full citizens, all part of the fabric of Israeli society.
I saw them all at the forest where I discovered the plaque of Babi-Yar. I saw their children running, free and happy. I saw Israel liberated from her enemies, but did not fail to notice all the police officers, young men and women in uniform, carrying long guns, ready to defend the celebrating multitudes against acts of terrorism too common nowadays.
I walked around, sampling with my eyes and nose the various cuisines at makeshift tables throughout the forest. The number of groups amazed me, but even more the fact they all share a common thread: They all live in the Jewish state called Israel and are in their homeland in the Land of Israel. They raise children knowing they will have to, much like they themselves, serve in the military.
I looked around and realized that a not-so-ancient promise of “NEVER AGAIN” is indeed being kept. That today Israel is alive and well.
“Make no mistake,” I whispered. “Israel is neither weak nor will she be misled any longer. At the time of reckoning, enemies beware- Israel has no option but to win-and win she will!”
Happy Birthday Israel!