View of Jerusalem 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Yesterday I reached out from my bedroom balcony and plucked a sweet, ripe fig
from a tree growing two stories below. Shehecheyanu. It was the first time I was
able to do that.
The tiny sapling I had planted several years ago had
finally grown tall enough. A little dream come true.
Hailing from New
York and having never seen one growing up, I’ve been enamored of Israel’s fig
trees since my first trip here in 1970. I suppose it has something to do with
biblical associations and the prophetic promise of days to come when we will
have little else to do but to recline in their shade, enjoying the blessings of
peace and prosperity. So a fig tree, in a little garden in the Land of Israel
over which I would have sovereignty, has long represented for me the realization
of the Zionist dream. On a small scale, of course.
fulfilled that aspiration is not something I take for granted, certainly not
after 40 years of longing. Nor should all the wonders characterizing this
country be anything that any of us takes for granted, certainly not after two
millennia of yearning.
I’m not one to whitewash Israel’s flaws, but
neither do I allow myself to ignore all that we have achieved.
profoundly distressed by the impossibilities faced by young couples desperate to
find affordable housing, but thoroughly enjoy strolling through the development
projects that have transformed old ports and dilapidated train stations into
bustling hubs of culture, shopping and gluttony.
I am deeply disturbed by
the hardships endured by Palestinian laborers who have to cross checkpoints
every day on their way into Israel proper to eke out a meager living. Yet I
celebrate the fact that on a recent evening at the Mamilla Mall, I sat in a café
overlooking Jerusalem’s ancient walls with traditionally garbed Arab women
sitting at tables scattered about, smiling and at ease, talking on their cell
phones and attending to their infant children. I am terribly worried about the
poor results scored by our children on standardized, international examinations
in English and mathematics, but am buoyed by the ever-growing number of Israeli
Nobel Prize laureates we can boast about.
I am repulsed by the story that
hit the press a couple of weeks back about the Arab schoolchildren from Jaffa
who were denied access to an Israeli amusement park for no other reason than
that they were not Jewish. But I find comfort that while wandering the narrow
streets of the capital’s Old City last week, there to enjoy the Jerusalem of
Light festivities, I was able to ask directions from Israeli Arab policemen and
engage in conversation with Arab restaurateurs in premises stylishly modeled and
IT PAINS me enormously that an unforgivably high
percentage of our citizenry subsists below the poverty line, unable to purchase
even basic foodstuffs, but I take great pleasure in navigating the roads of
Israel with Waze, knowing that it was just sold to Google for $1.1 billion, the
latest in a long string of multimillion-dollar “exits” fueling our
I am troubled by ongoing expressions of prejudice against our
brethren from Ethiopia, but feel great pride in being represented
internationally by one of them who has been crowned Miss Israel.
anguished and angered by the continuing repression of religious freedom in this
country, exemplified of late by attempts to intimidate the Women of the Wall,
but was enchanted on a recent balmy evening by the very contemporary music of
ostensibly ultra-Orthodox musicians, who were entertaining obviously secular
passersby along one of Jerusalem’s busiest commercial passageways.
discouraged by the large number of Israelis who continue to leave the country in
search of opportunity elsewhere, but delight in playing with my grandchildren on
a Shabbat afternoon in a playground full of little Sabras who will grow up never
knowing what it means to be a stranger in a strange land.
I am sickened
by the fanaticism and intolerance of those among us who destroy property, deface
mosques and terrorize Muslim inhabitants of this land as the “price tag” to be
paid for Arab rejection of our right to be here, but am heartened by the results
of poll after poll showing a majority of our people are prepared to accept a
twostate solution in the pursuit of peace, despite all we have suffered at the
hands of our implacable enemies.
The list goes on. Every concern is a
challenge to be taken seriously. Every achievement a triumph. Another little
dream come true – not only mine, ours.
The collective fulfillment of a
dream not so little at all.
We tend to beat ourselves up in this country
– far too often for good reason.
But far too infrequently do we stop to
appreciate the miracle of our return and the marvels of the Zionist enterprise,
and to share these things with those unfamiliar with them. We have a penchant
for bemoaning the insufficiencies of Israel’s advocacy efforts. And not without
good reason. But rather than expending energy on shifting the blame to others,
we might take upon ourselves the responsibility of sharing with others our
little dreams come true.
Our stories are the story of Israel.
of us has a sapling to nurture, a sweet, ripe fig to pluck. A reminder to
ourselves of why we are here. And a declaration to others of our right to
remain, determined to make of this country all it was meant to be. ■ The writer
is vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization and a member of the Jewish
Agency Executive. The opinions expressed herein are his own.