On the day Israel was born, May 14, 1948, I was a teenager living in my hometown, Melbourne, Australia. I heard the announcement on the radio as part of the evening news, and I am ashamed to say that it registered little more than other international events. I was Jewish, but it was my religion, not my race. Zionism was just a word I had heard, and understood no more than Jean Paul Sartre’s Existentialism, which was also being discussed at the time.
My parents listened to the radio as the votes came in, 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 born in Australia, they also couldn’t identify in the same way other Melbourne Jews did, especially those who had survived the Holocaust, yet they understood better than I what a momentous event it was for the Jewish people.
I remember meeting some of my Jewish friends who were more Zionist than I was, whose background had given them a better understanding than mine. 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 that I could not imagine would ever actually impinge on my life.
Today I have an Israeli passport and I live in Jerusalem – two facts which 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.
It happened in a surprising way. In the early 1950s I wanted to travel, but the idea of coming to Israel never entered my consciousness. I wanted to be a writer, and for me at that time that meant England, with the 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 the idea of visiting Israel never even occurred to me.
Eventually, I returned to Australia, and by sheer coincidence (or that is what I thought at the time), married a religious and Zionistic Jew, who felt 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 43 years later are still here, with all of our children having served in the IDF, graduated university, married and given us 18 wonderful Israeli grandchildren, many of whom have served or are serving in the IDF, as well as eight great-grandchildren.
It is tempting to say that I fell in love with Israel instantly and our aliya 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; worry about the language, the economy, the security; and a gnawing homesickness – a longing for family, friends, 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, like the withdrawal symptoms of a drug addict.
But gradually, the feelings changed. The Yom Kippur War in 1973 had enormous impact. Suddenly 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 were my people – we celebrated victories together, we grieved together when boys were killed, and they were all our sons.
As strange became familiar, I became involved with Israel in a way I had never been even with my birthplace.
Everything that happened, good or bad, was significant to me personally. Sometimes, like after Entebbe, I walked 10 feet tall with pride. Then, after terrorist attacks – and there have been too many to enumerate – I became angry at the world’s double standard in shrugging its shoulders at our anguish yet daring to condemn us when we retaliated. At times the government took decisions that hurt and disappointed me and occasionally, as in every society, I saw instances of injustice. The bureaucracy can be infuriating and the quality of life often leaves room for improvement.
Yet everything that happens affects me.
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 “Hatikva” being sung, even now, there are tears in my eyes. It is a day we start looking forward to from the minute Passover is over, and we plan barbecues, trips and campfires 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 usually we all meet at my daughter’s home in Moshav B’nai Darom near Ashdod for a barbecue and family get-together.
We will drive there from our homes in various cities and settlements; we will put Israeli flags in the windows of our cars and on our balconies. And with all the citizens of this tiny, brave country, we will in every way show our pride that we have not only survived for 66 years, against all odds, but have achieved in almost every field of endeavor! Once, if someone had asked me who I was I would probably 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.
Yet now, on Israel’s 66th Independence Day, if you asked me that same question, my answer would be: I’m an Israeli. And I would say it with pride, and no regrets.
The writer is the author 13 published books, including Woman of Jerusalem, Esther, a Jerusalem Love Story, The Pomegranate Pendant (now a movie under the title The Golden Pomegranate), The Seeds of the Pomegranate, In a Good Pasture and her memoir My Long Journey Home. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.