We're in the midst of Israel's secular holidays, that are arguably more profound in terms of popular sentiment than the principal religious holidays of Yom Kippur and Pesach.

 
Thusday was day to remember the Holocaust. Together with next Wednesday--the day to remember fallen soldiers and victims of terror--these are the two most solemn days of the Israeli calendar. Then comes Independence Day when families go on picnics and have a good time.
 
Some will say that nothing can match the feelings associated with Yom Kippur or Pesach. One is a contemplation of sin and the other a celebration of freedom. Both have their profound messages, but cannot match the two Memorial Days when most living individuals have direct experience of what they signify.
 
It's mostly the European half of the population with direct experience of the Holocaust. There may not be too many actual survivors still alive, but there are enough children and grandchildren raised in the shadows to have had almost direct contact with what it meant.
 
Varda lights a candle for her uncle and grandmother, whose name she carries translated from German to Hebrew. Years ago she listened to radio reports about people found alive but scattered, in the hope that she would hear the names of Rosa and Karl. She was an adult before she received copies of the official German records from the Dutch Red Cross.
 
Almost the entire population has personal memories of soldiers who did not come home, or individuals killed by terror. 
 
Varda lights a candle for two cousins.
 
I've visited the grave in the military cemetery of the boy who was Stefan's closest friend in junior high school, and I sat with the family of a student who was killed in the university cafeteria.
 
The media busies itself with both days, reaching a peak of attention during the evening before and then throughout the day with stories of those who died and those who survived. 
 
It's not uncommon to avoid the emotional pressure, either by turning off the radio or going out of the country. 
 
This year it is difficult to avoid the association of both days with US-European negotiations with Iran.
 
Against Americans, including American Jews who assert their love for Israel but insist that Prime Minister Netanyahu has threatened them and us with his meddling in American politics, the Israeli polity is pretty well united about the threat from Iran. There are those who quarrel with the Prime Minister's tactics, but their reservations pale in the context of his chief political rival--Yitzhak Herzog--asserting that there is no quarrel about the danger from Iranian nuclear weapons and the faults in what has so far been negotiated. 
 
Media personalities who thought Netanyahu was risking too much by challenging the President in his own Capitol have credited the Prime Minister for raising the issue, influencing Congress to assert its involvement, and perhaps bringing the White House to be more vigilant. 
 
It's hard to find any optimism in what seems to be a sharp disagreement between Iranian and western participants in the negotiations, and in Russia's agreement to provide sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to Iran.
 
Yet it has been worse, as signified by Israel's non-religious holidays.
 
Since Independence, the population has gone from a bit less than 900,000 to a bit more than 8 million. Virtually all the Jews from the nastiest places have left where they had to leave, and many of them have been absorbed here, along with smaller numbers who came--like me--for a variety of personal reasons rather than because they felt they had to leave where they lived. 
 
Israel's economy has grown from a GDP per capita that was 47 percent of that in the United States in 1960 to a GDP per capita that is now 65 percent of that in the United States. While none of Israel's universities have the resources of Harvard or Oxford, all of them appear in the lists of the 500 highest ranking institutions in the world, and two or three regularly appear in--or close to--the top 100 in various rankings. Health indicators put Israel in the top tier of European countries, and ahead of the US.
 
Not all is rosy. Palestinian inspired BDS resonates with leftists on campuses, among Jews, and other activists in the US and Europe. A Korean friend laments that young people in his country--where there has never been a Jewish community--show signs of anti-Semitism and link Israel and North Korea as the two most evil countries.
 
Pending is the prospect of a Palestinian suit against Israel in the International Criminal Court. However, Israeli officials are preparing a counter suit, and the stand off may never occur. Much of the activity by Israeli security forces in the West Bank is focused against Hamas and serves to protect the slippery grasp on power by Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah colleagues. The Palestinian leadership is a long way from singing Hatikvah or even acknowledging publicly Israel's right to exist, but there is a lot of maneuvering outside of what the media reports.


German made submarines capable of launching missiles provide as much of Israel's deterrent against Iran as American made aircraft. The submarines and aircraft include technology and carry munitions from Israel's own laboratories and industry.


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History and current politics aside, Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa are the foreign carriers accounting for the highest number of passengers to Ben Gurion Airport. Germany is also the preference of Israelis seeking a second passport, with some 100,000 Israelis having acquired German citizenship as of 2011, and about 7,000 more doing so each year.


This may be far from being a normal country. Partly because of that, it is well established as an interesting country.



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