Israel: From the eyes of America

Leading progressive lives in the midst of existential threat while maintaining ambition, optimism and high morale are impressive traits of the Israeli attitude.

By JOSHUA BAUMOEHL
July 8, 2013 22:35
3 minute read.
Gilad Schalit on a walk with his mom

Gilad Schalit on a walk with mama_311. (photo credit: Reuters)

A young Israeli woman approaches, swiftly and without hesitation.

She can see through my confused direction, tired posture and yet overwhelming pride that I am a newcomer.

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“What’s your name,” she asks in a mixed Russian-Hebrew accent. “Josh... Joshua,” I respond, panicky and out of breath. “What are you doing here, Joshua?” she asks.

Having to think for a moment. I tell her about my university trip from America and how I am in Israel the entire month of June to study and intern in Jerusalem.

“Welcome to Israel. Move along,” she responds, after taking a long minute to confirm my identity. I carry myself to the arrivals hall.

That overwhelming pride continues from the second those airplane wheels hit the ground. It is as if a shield has extended the length of my entire body, catching my every fall, step and leap.

To someone not well acquainted with Israel, the country might appear a bit on extreme side for a place to take the family for summer vacation.

The perceptions of common street violence, hate crimes and even poor infrastructure absolutely occupied my mind before coming. Walking the streets of Jerusalem, I have never felt safer, more loved and less afraid.

The streets I had once assumed were sand and dirt are really much smoother and better paved than any Florida street I know. I now feel more in danger leaving my house in America than I do in Israel. Many foreigners do not realize the advanced level of security implemented within Israel’s civilian borders.

With no friends, relatives, or contacts for news outside of the media, my thoughts were largely influenced by various news outlets’ portrayal of events. I am not entirely certain what you have heard from the media over the past 65 years, but I’ll assume you have not been overindulging in learning about Israeli culture or the people themselves.

For many young Israelis, joining the military has been commonplace since the state declared independence in 1948. For those who serve in the Israel Defense Forces, a popular life path includes exploring the world for six months to one year after service, coming back to Israel, going to college, seeking employment, marrying, and having children. This is what seems to be the formula for Israeli success. However, some things do not always go as planned.

At and on behalf of the Jerusalem Press Club in Yemin Moshe, Jerusalem, I had the privilege of meeting former IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. In 2006, Schalit was taken captive by Palestinian militants and in 2011, was released in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners responsible for 569 Israeli deaths. As incredible as his story is, and as controversial as the deal for his release was, I did not expect to see such a public welcome for a war hero.

Schalit has since become a sports columnist, and visited my home state, in June 2012 to cover the NBA finals. We talked about how the Miami Dolphins would make it to the Super Bowl one day, how the Miami Heat could win a few more basketball championships with Lebron James, and how the Miami Marlins are the joke of American baseball.

Schalit was smiling throughout our conversation. I think he found it amusing that I could not conceal my huge sense of joy during that brief encounter.

Of all the things I was thinking of talking about or asking him, American sports was not one of them. I realized that someone with such a traumatic past does not have to let it take control of his or her future. Maybe this is also how the nation of Israel carries on as well? After a quick photograph with our class, a very loud and cheerful crowd of 40 to 50 children surrounded Schalit from behind. They looked as though Superman had arrived. They were absolutely awestruck by his presence; I was awestruck by theirs. Everyone in the world has their hardships, but meeting Gilad Schalit helped me see that Israel is special.

There is something about the Israeli attitude specifically that caught my attention. Leading such progressive lives in the midst of existential threat is one thing, but leading those same lives with the ambition, optimism and high morale I witnessed is another. It is a maturity level I have come to admire. During my month in Israel, I was blessed to witness firsthand the dream of my ancestors.

Now, I can finally see what they had all been talking about.

The author is a recent graduate of the University of Miami.


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