Dear Israel,

Today is the day when I would sing “Happy birthday!” to you in a cramped hotel party room. People would watch and my friends would sing along, some off-key and some on-key. But I am not with you today. I celebrate your 67th birthday from afar, so part of me wonders if you could handle a surprise like that at an age like yours. But you have faced worse surprises and are as youthful as ever.

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You burst with new talents and technology. Not a day goes by when I do not read about your gymnasts stealing (or, as I like to say, “rightfully claiming”) gold, your scientists curing cancer, or your entrepreneurs breathing new life into the markets. It’s funny-- you are already 67, but so many people call you the “Start-Up Nation.”


You are a beacon of democracy and human rights. And, no, Israel dearest, I don’t say that to everyone. You are the most accepting 67-year-old I know. You take everyone: Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Christians, gays, lesbians, transgenders, Druze, to name a few. They can stay by you for Shabbos, Jummah, Sunday church or a night at the club. You sing the song of “Am Yisrael Chai” (The People of Israel Live) with Ofra Haza, a Yemenite Jew, “Bokra” (Tomorrow) with Mira Awad, a Palestinian-Bulgarian Arab, and “Diva” with Dana International, a transgender secular Jew. But above all, you sing a song of hope. You sing HaTikvah.

It’s funny that I mention singing, because as I write this letter, I am listening to Moshe Peretz sing “Ach Sheli” (My Brother) in honor of the soldiers that fell during Operation Protective Edge. And I cry. I suppose that your youthful existence comes with a price. When I pray for your welfare, I pray for your soldiers, your people, your safety and your beauty. Or perhaps, I pray for my soldiers, my friends, and my people, whatever religion they are. It is with great conviction that I pray to Avinu She’ba’shamayim (our Father in Heaven) and speak that prayer in my heart, in my soul and on my lips.

But sometimes my prayer leads me to tears. My dearest, how I see you spurned and hated. No, you are not perfect. You too have made mistakes. No friend or lover will lie to you about perfection; truth is the greatest love. But you are as human as a country could be. That humanity is your blessing: your uniqueness, your youthfulness, and your imperfect beauty.

When you stand in the United Nations next to “models” of democracy, I see sometimes how fake their smiles are and how artificial their beauty is. Last summer, they protested against you. Their screams kept me up at night. They criticized your mistakes as if they have made none. They ridiculed your actions as if they have never defended themselves. But have you not had to stand up for yourself to achieve your independence?

On this Independence Day, you can revel in your freedom. But it pains me to know that in not-so-far-off places like Al-Yarmouk, human beings are being robbed of their independence, their lives and their dignity. And yet, these “models of democracy” who criticized you for your alleged transgressions remain woefully silent.

Israel, my dearest, you are never silent. You announce your presence to the world, and grow only stronger in your age. You are now one year older than the year before: one more operation that kept me praying late at night, one more Holocaust Remembrance Day prompting us to Never Forget, and one terrible day at Har Nof. It has been a year of violence, a year of fear, and a year of sleepless nights.

But it has also been a year of prayer and growth. There was an election, there was an Iron Dome, there were people in our synagogues, there was change in our hearts.

On your birthday, my wish for you is to never have to survive such a year again. My wish for you is to find calm. My wish for you is to sing a song of hope.

With deepest love and affection,

Leora

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If you are still reading this, I encourage you to say the prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel.

Please reach out to me on Twitter @LeoraEisenberg or on Facebook at Leora Noor Eisenberg. I look forward to hearing from you.

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