Israel is fond of creating sister-city relationships with communities across the world. Ra’anana, for example, is partnered with Atlanta as well as cities in Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Taiwan. These ties help sponsor cultural bonds and promote visits from interested citizens.
All well and good, of course; but I would like to suggest that Israel itself create a “sister-state” arrangement – with Hawaii!
Now, you are probably thinking that I’ve had a bit too much pineapple liquor, but the idea is not so far-fetched. Both Israel and Hawaii are places of exceptional, unparalleled attraction, with virtually every type of striking geographical experience: beautiful coasts, lush vegetation, even mountains, all crammed into a rather tiny space. And both, sad to say, are no strangers to trauma and tragedy. To make the point even more dramatic, I’m told that if one would dig in a straight line from Hawaii directly through the earth, he would come up in... Jerusalem!
Recently, we had the pleasure of returning to Hawaii, which some have compared to the Garden of Eden (not coincidentally, rabbinic sources maintain that the original Eden is actually in Israel!).
The Hawaiian Islands form the ultimate getaway, both because of their breathtaking beauty and their sublime isolation, being some 3,000 km. from the nearest continent. Originally known as the Sandwich Islands, Hawaii became America’s 50th state in 1959 and is a magnet for tourists from all over the world who come to watch whales, surf and sunbathe on the pristine beaches and soak in the unique atmosphere of this volcanic mountain range that rises above the sea.
For Israelis, there is a certain breath-of-fresh-air, relaxed, no-hurry ambiance in the Aloha State that helps to recharge the batteries before returning to the dynamic, desperate, never-a-dull-moment Israel that we love.
BUT THERE is another side to Hawaii, as well. It will forever carry the imprint of the violent events that occurred on December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy,” in the immortal words of president Franklin Roosevelt.
On that fateful Sunday morning, Japan staged a massive assault on Honolulu’s Pearl Harbor that essentially wiped out the US Pacific Fleet. In a pinpoint and precise three-pronged attack by torpedo aircraft, dive-bombers and fighter planes, the heart of America’s naval presence was demolished in a deadly sneak attack. 3,500 sailors and civilians were killed or wounded, and 21 naval vessels sunk or severely damaged, including the majority of Battleship Row, where sat the West Virginia, Oklahoma, Nevada, California, Pennsylvania and Arizona.
The Arizona was the hardest hit. Ironically, its sailors had won a contest that allowed them to sleep late that morning, and so they were caught completely unawares. To make matters worse, the ship’s massive fuel tanks – 1.5 million gallons worth – had been filled just the day before.
The Japanese struck mercilessly, in two waves, and 1,177 of the Arizona’s crew were killed in the attack. The Arizona remains forever submerged in the harbor, an eternal memorial to the battle and to the 900 men still entombed within. To this day, oil continues to seep out of the great ship – what the US Navy calls “the black tears of the Arizona,” a grisly reminder of that harrowing morning.
The Japanese, in their fanatic quest to rule the Pacific, needed to pillage the resources of the region to fuel their war machine, and knew that the US would not stand by idly. And so they struck the American fleet which stood in their way.
But Tokyo underestimated the spirit and resilience of America, which set about to massively rebuild its naval capabilities and eventually win back – at great cost – all that it had lost. Eighteen of the 21 ships struck in 1941 would return to the fleet, and in September of 1945, Japan would sign the final surrender document on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, signaling the end of World War II.
The attack on Pearl Harbor, dreadful as it was, turned out to be one of three seminal events that prevented the total destruction of world Jewry. Until Pearl, America had been fiercely isolationist, supplying England with war material from afar, yet steadfastly refusing to join in the fight. Pearl changed all that, as FDR declared war on both Japan and Nazi Germany the following day. American boys – my father among them – enthusiastically enlisted in the various armed services, and the United States heroically turned the tide of the war and saved the world from tyrannical rule.
Along with General Montgomery’s stunning defeat of Rommel’s Afrika Korps – which immediately threatened the fledgling Jewish Yishuv in Palestine – and Hitler’s ill-advised decision to activate Operation Barbarossa, which brought the Soviet Union into the Allied camp, the assault on Pearl Harbor ensured that the forces of good would defeat the evil that had descended upon the Jews and upon the world at large.
AS I stood solemnly at the Arizona memorial, I thought of how Israel, too, had been treacherously attacked in the Yom Kippur War, and how our courageous soldiers suffer countless casualties at the hands of our Arab and Palestinian enemies, yet remain strong and stalwart in their defense of our nation and our way of life.
I was reminded once again that freedom must never be taken for granted, that we must remain vigilant and prepared if we are to protect our families and our homes. I felt a strong kinship between Israel’s astonishing record of military success and America’s proud heritage of bravery under fire.
At the exit of Pearl Harbor, there is a plaque bearing the text of a note that Eleanor Roosevelt kept in her wallet throughout the war:
Dear Lord, lest I continue my complacent way,
Help me to remember that somewhere,
Somewhere out there a man died for me today.
As long as there be war,
I then must ask and answer, Am I worth dying for?
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.