(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The other day I witnessed a group of IDF soldiers relaxing on the lawn of a college campus. They were singing or humming the song, "Hare'ut" (Friendship):
On the Negev descends the fall night,
And silently fires up the stars.
The words are by Haim Guri, the music by Sasha Argov.
The atmosphere captured is of 1948, but the song, though about the War of Independence, still touches the heart today.
But we will remember them,
Beautiful of mind and body,
Because this kind of friendship
Won't let our hearts forget.
Love hallowed in blood
You will return to blossom among us.
In the difficult, sad times we are currently experiencing I find myself greatly encouraged by this marvelous old song.
There are those who view it as an expression of Ashkenazi arrogance. A fashionable playwright, in a play performed in Berlin, even compared this plaintive tune to the Nazi Horst Wessel. For post-Zionists anything goes, no matter how despicable.
Because a friendship like this
Won't allow our hearts to forget.
I ALMOST DID forget the most important thing. The soldiers singing the song were from Ethiopia. And, lying there on the grass, they were lovely in form and spirit.
I wonder: What do they have in common with this song? What connects the Israeli society of today to the very different one that produced "Hare'ut"?
I have no answer.
Perhaps the similarity involves the ongoing danger posed to Israel's existence. Then we faced an enemy led by a Nazi-type - the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini. Today it's the president of Iran.
Perhaps it is sorrow that links the generation of 1948 with ours - sorrow over the wars and their young victims.
And, besides, Israel (the country the anti-Israeli sociologists refuse to recognize) lives in constant tension between tradition and change. Its heritage, both Jewish and Zionist, is preserved even as Israel itself undergoes tremendous changes in the makeup of its population and in its lifestyle.
As I passed those singing soldiers another thought came to me. I imagined the IDF General Staff 20 years from now, led by many Israelis of Russian extraction bearing Russian names, since about a third of the IDF's fighting force is made up of former Russians (some not recognized as Jews by the Orthodox rabbinate). Some of them will finally manage to break through the glass ceiling that blocks the path of first-generation new immigrants on their way to the top.
It will be led by Ethiopians too. Because of their motivation, their devotion and their Zionism.
And there are those who say miracles don't happen in Israel anymore.
ON MY way out of a television studio recently, I see a group of children waiting. Three of them come from families of Ethiopian immigrants, and one from a family of Russian immigrants. They want me to sign my autograph on the pieces of paper they have prepared. They have no idea who I am, but the fact that I was on television is enough to grant me autograph status.
I ask where they are from.
From the south, they reply, we're visiting Tel Aviv.
What school do you go to? They tell me the name of the school.
And how are classes?
In a chorus, they reply: "Shit."
And how is the school?
And how are the teachers?
"A bunch of farts."
And there are those who say that the immigration absorption has failed!
A REPORT by the World Bank's section on demography and health provides fascinating figures on Israel compared to countries in the Western world. The data relate to 2004, but it is unlikely that they have changed significantly since then.
While per-capita GDP is still low compared to developed countries, the health figures, which relate to the entire population, including Arabs, are astounding.
Life expectancy in Israel at birth is 79 years (exactly the same as in England and New Zealand); infant mortality per 1,000 births is five (exactly the same as in England and New Zealand - in the United States it's seven); child mortality under the age of five is six per 1,000 (the same as in England, lower than in New Zealand and the US).
The mortality rate among women during delivery (out of 100,000 live births) is 17 - the same as in the US, but higher than in Britain, where it's 13, seven in New Zealand). The vaccination figures are the same as in England and New Zealand, and significantly higher than in the United States.
Success in treating tuberculosis patients in Israel is 80 percent; 36 percent in New Zealand and 70 percent in the US. There are no figures for Britain.
And there are those who say that Israel is a third world country!
The writer is president of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.