Israelis are among the world’s happiest people because life feels normal and fulfilling day-to-day – despite the tumultuous headlines. But some weeks, history intrudes. Last week we Troys rode the ultimate Israeli roller coaster – a wedding, a brit, and two funerals. We kept living modern Israel’s everyday wonders – amid too many reminders of the high price so many pay to keep us alive.
It started with a storybook wedding of a fabulous young woman, who has all but grown up in our house, to a lovely IDF officer. It was a mixed marriage – Jerusalem and Ra’anana, American-born and Israeli-born.
The wedding at Givat Brenner gave me a kick in my Zionist adrenals. There we were, on a good socialist kibbutz, founded in 1928, memorializing the socialist Zionist writer Yosef Hayim Brenner, born in 1881 in Ukraine, then slaughtered by Arabs in 1921 in Jaffa.
As we scarfed down the gourmet-level food, as we luxuriated in the lush surroundings, I recalled the Brenner passage I chose for my book, The Zionist Ideas: “We have to start all over again, to lay down a new cornerstone. But who will do that?” Brenner wondered. “Can we do it, with our sick character?”
Brenner understood that, after years of exile, the Jewish “character must be radically changed.” He concluded: “Our urge for life says: All this is possible. Our urge for life whispers hopefully in our ear: Workers’ settlements, workers’ settlements, workers’ settlements – this is our revolution. The only one.”
Brenner was so right, yet so wrong. Yes, we needed “workers’ settlements” – then – so Givat Brenner, and this amazing country, could launch collectively. But, eventually, both the kibbutz memorializing him and the country, whose ideological foundation he helped establish, had to evolve.
The heavy-handed collectivism, that nevertheless protected individual rights, metamorphosed into today’s more creative yet still nationalistic individualism that allows so many of the pioneers’ heirs to afford Givat Brenner’s swanky wedding hall.
Israel's operation in Jenin
As we danced the night away, many of us felt the absence of some of the couple’s closest friends. The absentees weren’t boycotting the nuptials – just serving their country. As the wedding wound down, these young heroes were up – and entering Jenin. The Jenin operation was not about “mowing the lawn” but cutting out tumors. This isn’t perpetuating the Mideast cycle of violence – it’s fighting the culture of Palestinian vileness.
Yes, Palestinian terrorists will secure more weapons, develop new command-and-control-centers, and rebuild bomb factories – just as lethal tumors sometimes recur. But our soldiers did an amazing, long-overdue, job neutralizing much of the terror infrastructure Palestinians recently developed in Jenin.
The IDF reestablished its ability to enter Jenin’s killers’ casbah if necessary, when chasing terrorists – like keeping an IV open in a long-term cancer patient’s veins. And Israel sent a clear message of deterrence, after tolerating the terrorists’ tentacles strangling Jenin’s citizens for too long.
THE NEXT day, with our soldiers still in Jenin, I attended a most moving brit in Modi’in-Maccabim-Reut, a sandpile in the 1980s that is blossoming today. The baby was already three weeks old but had just recovered from jaundice.
Remarkably, this newborn dilly-dallied long enough to be circumcised during the weekly Torah portion of his late uncle, who died 11 years ago of cancer at 24. The baby not only carries his uncle’s name but will share his namesake’s bar mitzvah portion. Some call it “coincidence.” Others call it “miraculous.” We in Israel call it “just another Monday.”
A few hours later, our boys left Jenin. The commandos temporarily housed in Mevo Dotan arrived exhausted, but then were exhilarated by dozens of people waving flags, hugging and high-fiving them.
Chabadnikim from Yitzhar, an hour away, came with a barbecue of barbecues. The next night, this particular unit had a pizza-fest in Jerusalem, courtesy of Red Pizza. It not only makes Jerusalem’s best pizza, but its owner refused payment, to honor our soldiers, giving me yet more kicks in my Zionist adrenals.
Alas, those soldiers, and others, were in Jerusalem, because this successful, necessary, mission was nevertheless costly. As the troops were exiting, amid the fog of war, with bullets flying all around, a beautiful 23-year-old soul, David Yehudah Yitzhak, was killed. The news of his death gave me a kick in the pants.
One of my sons knew this thoughtful, giving, spiritual guy – and my other son attended the funeral to pay his respects and support his brother. David’s friend, Arnon Atzmon, found his notebook filled with inspirational sayings, including: “Remember that soon you won’t be here anymore, help others… be of high quality!” Atzmon summarized his friend’s too-short life, saying, “He has a very clear legacy: to do what is necessary, not to fall into despair.”
Devastatingly, the next day, more friends attended another heartbreaking funeral, for Shilo Yosef Amir, 22, shot in cold blood by a 19-year-old terrorist outside of Kedumim.
Everyone in this story – from the freshly married couple, to their twinkle-toed friends, to the baby and his family, to the soldiers, to the soldiers’ greeters, to the Red Pizza owner, to the fallen soldiers and their cascading circles of grief – is so much better than our leaders.
Their stories, their goodness, their values, rarely make headlines. But generous, self-sacrificing, anchored, family-oriented heroic souls like them, are why I love this country. These salt-of-the-earth Israelis also explain why the entire world is a much better place, because it contains this little speck on the globe, this beauty mark called “Israel.”
The writer is the editor of the new three-volume set Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings, the inaugural publication of The Library of the Jewish People (www.theljp.org).