Pride of place

This past April was about flags and an earthquake—one inextricably intertwined with the other and firmly stamped with a feeling: pride.

Every year, immediately after Passover, in preparation for Independence Day, Israeli flags begin to appear absolutely everywhere. They’re posted on walls, hung from electricity poles and stuck to doorways.  The local maintenance team of my small town, like that in other towns and cities throughout the country, goes into high gear and within forty-eight hours the entire community is aflutter with blue and white.

These flags mark the start of a very special period here in Israel; one where we memorialize the losses of the Holocaust, then the countries' fallen soldiers and finally, celebrate the establishment of an Independent State. It's quite a busy few weeks.

And even the most hardened individual, one who may have a grudge about the recent election results, not feel very patriotic, or occasionally wish they were elsewhere, cannot but be moved by the sight of an entire country papered with blue and white. Yes, it's all symbolic. These flags are a symbol, meant to trigger an emotion.

But occasionally, something happens and one realizes it's not just symbolic. It's not just about those paper flags whipping in the wind. Something happens that reaches in to your heart and gives it a squeeze; reminds you that where you live really is different—is, even more significantly, special. And that the feelings those flags induce are genuine.

I’m not really the patriotic type. I don't think a lot about what country I belong to or which nationality feels more significant. Yes, having two complicates the equation. But there are days when without expecting it, without having thought about it for quite a while, I feel intensely proud to be Israeli.

This year, a few days after the Independence Day celebrations had ended, as the work crews began to appear, climbing poles and ladders to remove all those flags, an earthquake rocked the area around Katmandu, Nepal. Although far removed geographically from Israel, Nepal is a geo-center for Israeli youth, being one of the more popular places to stretch one’s legs after military service. The reports of the quake made clear that lives, multiple lives, were threatened; and that yes, there was a good chance that many Israelis were among them.

The official reaction here in Israel was immediate: gears moved into place, plans were made, flights were organized and medical equipment was prepared. A mission to rescue, to save and to assist in any fashion possible was set into action. Israel was the first to set up a field hospital on site and was actively involved with pulling victims out of the rubble. A handful of families with newborns who were imperiled by the lack of electricity at the local hospital were transported back to Israel to receive proper medical care. Stranded Israelis were flown back home.

No soul was left unaccounted for and for days the names and pictures of missing individuals were passed back and forth on the local social network in an attempt to use the knowledge of a nation to find them and bring them home. Every day the numbers of the unaccounted for got smaller and eventually it came down to one last missing Israeli. The whole country worried and after the discovery that he had indeed perished, twenty friends from his former army unit, those who had fought so bravely just this past summer in Operation Protective Edge, flew over to Nepal and braved dangerous terrain to escort his remains from their temporary burial spot under the rubble, on their last journey home.

What other country goes to such an extent to stretch out its arms and collect its children? What other country works together in an effort to account for each and every missing soul? What other country, upon discovering the loss of one life, mourns him as their own—the loss of a son of the nation being a communal tragedy?

This past April those paper flags were less about symbol and more about reality: a reality of communal effort, unity and heart—one I am proud to be part of. Yes, this Spring I am feeling particularly patriotic.