People watch Israeli Air Force planes fly over the Mediterranean Sea from a Tel Aviv beach, during an aerial show as part of celebrations for Israel's Independence Day, marking the 66th anniversary of the creation of the state.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With all of the violence and riots that took place throughout Israel this past week, I have been forced to find inside myself an island of strength and optimism. What I have been searching for in recent days is the light within the darkness and the hope among the despair; beautiful paradoxes that Israel was founded on. And as I searched for meaning and inspiration while violence was raging and fear was growing, I found my solace in the people that I am surrounded by; eight million heroes who call this blessed land home.
Just 10 steps outside my house, I found inspiration in a stone bench surround by flowers which my neighbor set up as a memorial for her son, who was killed in battle while serving in the army. The memory bench was my first powerful reminder that heroes exist not just in fairy tales and movies; they are my neighbors, friends and passersby on the street.
In Israel, there is a unique and special feeling that we are all family, and, honestly, I don’t think any of us would be able to endure the hardships that the nation has faced without this bond. When I sit on the memory bench, the feeling of love for my country and its people is overwhelming, and I cannot help but think about the sacrifices we all have made to live here in the Promised Land.
When I moved to Jerusalem 10 years ago, I met a sweet couple with three children who had been living in the city for years. They told me how lucky I was to have moved to Jerusalem after the second intifada. “Bombs were blowing up daily within blocks of our house, and we needed to make hard decisions,” the wife said somberly as she told me about that terrible time. “Even going to the grocery store was taking a risk, so either my husband or I would always stay home with the children.”
I asked her why, and with tears in her eyes she answered me, “That way, if one of us was killed in a terrorist attack while shopping, at least our children would have one parent. This is our reality here in Israel.”
It amazed me how this woman – along with so many others – still had extraordinary inner strength and an outlook of positivity after enduring terrifying years of terrorism.
The people who live in Jerusalem did not leave during the intifada for the same reason that the people of Sderot do not move to a different city today, despite the rockets that often plague them: Israelis believe that if we move out, the terrorists will have won. Just by living in Israel, we are protecting the freedoms that we hold so dear.
It takes faithful heroes to be able to make this kind of bold decision, and Israel is filled with heroes.
Security guards often risk their lives for a minimum wage of $5 per hour out of a deep will to keep the Holy Land safe. Policemen, army sergeants and government officials wear their kippot with pride so that they always remember they are God’s messengers protecting and strengthening the Holy Land. Parents send their 18-year-old children to mandatory army service, and the children feel honored to go. A top news story during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 was of a soldier who yelled out the Shema prayer just before jumping on a live grenade to save the lives of his comrades.
Despite the hardships, I feel lucky and thankful to live in this wonderful country where everyone feels like family. After hearing about the sacrifices that policemen, civilians and army personnel made this week – Jews and Druse alike – I was reminded that the State of Israel’s eight million residents are not only citizens, but heroes. And, thank God, we have millions more heroic friends abroad who stand by our side always, protecting our freedoms and rights from afar. With the selfless commitment and dedication that millions of people have to Israel’s security and growth, my prayers for a bright and peaceful future are far from impossible.
The writer is vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.