It was the end of July 2006 and like other reporters I was up North covering the Second Lebanon War. One day, we were invited to a seaside hotel in Haifa to meet with government and military officers and be briefed on the latest wartime developments.
I don’t remember what was said in the briefings, but I won’t forget what happened in between. Some of the reporters went outside to get a bit of fresh air. At the time, northern Israel was like a ghost town.
People who had the means, had already fled South. Others remained locked up in their bomb shelters. A few days earlier, a Hezbollah rocket had slammed into a train depot in the city, killing eight people.
Barely anyone was out on the street. Small fires could be seen on the surrounding mountains, started by the Katyusha rockets Hezbollah was firing daily and indiscriminately into Israel. One place though stood out. It was a flower shop that was for some reason open and the owner was carrying flower pots in and out, arranging bouquets and straightening stems. It was out of touch with reality. A war was raging nearby and here was a man who thought it was time to open his flower store.
Elli Wohlgelernter, The Jerusalem Post
’s night editor who at the time worked for Israel TV, asked the man what he was doing. “What do you mean,” he replied nonchalantly. “Someone might want flowers.”
I’ve always marveled at this story. It would be easy to write off the flower shop owner as someone a bit crazy who despite the threats, risks and warnings, decided to open his business. But I think what he did stems from something deeper. The man was really saying: “Life goes on. Hezbollah can fire rockets just like others have tried to kill us before, but it won’t stop me from carrying on with my life.” As he said, someone might want flowers.
For me, this story encapsulated the secret to Israel’s success. It is resilience, a trait that has characterized the Jewish people for thousands of years through its expulsions from different lands and its return and then exile again from its homeland. Modern Israel’s ingenuity and creativity is impressive, but it is not enough on its own. Without resilience, it would be almost meaningless.
This is the same resilience seen after suicide bus bombings in the 2000s when just an hour after a bus would tragically go up in flames in Jerusalem, people would again be back at the stop lining up and waiting for the next bus to come. It is the same resilience that has not only kept Israelis from fleeing the kibbutzim and moshavim around the Gaza Strip but has motivated others to move there despite the threat of Hamas terror tunnels, mortars and Kassam rockets.
This is the story of Israel. It is a story of an ancient people, who returned to its historic homeland and against all odds not just survived, but persevered and prospered. It is the story of a people who refused to surrender to the enemies who still today continue to work toward its annihilation.
ISRAEL IS far from perfect. Like any democracy, this one also has its flaws and imperfections. Just look at the recent fiasco in how decisions were made regarding the illegal African migrants and the government’s intention to pass a law that would undermine the separation of powers in the country as well as the Supreme Court. But this doesn’t mean, as some would have you believe, that everything is bad.
Perspective is needed. A mere 73 years ago my grandparents were liberated from Bergen-Belsen and Rechlin, a subcamp of Ravensbruck.
They had lost their parents, grandparents as well as dozens of uncles, aunts and cousins. In their wildest dreams, they never would have imagined that a Jewish state was possible, a place where three of their grandchildren would serve in the IDF and help defend the Jewish homeland.
My grandparents, Charlie and Rene Lipshitz, demonstrated resilience by finding the strength to restart their lives after liberation. They came to America, built a business and a proud Jewish and Zionist family. Many other European refugees came to Israel where they were joined by hundreds of thousands of Sephardic Jews forced to leave their homes in Arab countries after statehood was declared.
When the War of Independence broke out, many of these Holocaust survivors and new immigrants were met at the docks, handed rifles and sent straight to the front line. They didn’t know a word of Hebrew and many were killed on the battlefield. Some were the last remaining survivors of their families, but they fought valiantly and with distinction, proud to finally be able to defend their people and homeland.
Conditions were tough. Food was rationed, public transportation was nonexistent and medical services were unreliable. Israel’s survival was constantly in question. Living under the shadow of the guillotine though had its advantages. It sharpened Israelis’ minds and helped them hone important skills – like the ability to improvise and adapt – as well as plant the seed for what would eventually morph into the Start-Up Nation.
There are plenty of opportunities to criticize the country and highlight its failings and mistakes. But it would be remiss to ignore its amazing achievements. Seventy years is a mere blip on the Jewish timeline that goes back for millennia and is far from being enough to conclude, as naysayers would like you to believe, that Israel has failed as a Jewish state.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Israel is a place of great success and amazing promise. It is a place where Jewish sovereignty has been restored after two thousand years, where religious freedom thrives for all and where liberty is taken for granted despite the totalitarian regimes that surround it.
This Independence Day is an opportunity to take pride in the amazing state and beacon of light established and fostered in this historic land. Not too long ago, most people would not have believed it was possible.