Contradiction and 8 Things I Love about Israel
A Day of Contradiction
Today is a day of memories. They’re mixed memories. History has led us to the present where I can live as an equal citizen, free and secure; where I can immigrate to Israel and express my Jewish identity openly as I see fit. Yet this same history has displaced one of my dearest friends who lives minutes away from me, robbing her of her equality, freedom and security. We live different realities side by side, and they only intersect when we make an effort for them to. Our children were born alongside each other, in the same labor rooms of the same hospitals, yet the state treats them very differently, legitimizing mine and marginalizing hers. She is Palestinian. I am Israeli. This dissonance has sunk deep into my heart, and I try and hold the two together, attempting to make it better for both of us, so our sons and daughters can grow together in a city that welcomes them both.
Today is a day that marks the beginning of my people’s advancement at the expense of hers. It’s a day of independence for me. Today, I cannot simply mourn, because there is something good here for my people. I wish it weren’t at her expense. I can’t undo the past, but I can advocate different policies in the present. Today, my memories cannot hold mourning, for my story is complex, as much of life is.
8 Things I Love
In participation with today’s celebration, I will share some of the things I love about Israel. Each of these points has its counterpoints because, like all nations, we have unsolved issues in need of resolution. Tomorrow I’ll return to looking toward what we’ve yet to accomplish, but for Independence Day, I stop and celebrate the beauty and accomplishments that I appreciate and value.
- I love Israel’s attempt at inclusiveness. Jews have come from all over the world, sometimes because they flee for their lives, sometimes because they are viewed as second-class citizens in the countries of their birth, sometimes for economic advancement, or sometimes out of mere curiosity. Here, Jews always have a home.
- Israel is a robust and functioning democracy for its Jewish citizens. Within this system we have legal recourse, we can petition our leaders, we have opportunity for social advancement, and we can affect change.
While we have our fair share of gender issues, Israeli women are strong, and they are encouraged in this strength. The socialist beginnings of the state and even mandatory military service for women help integrate them into Israeli society and they are viewed as strong contributing members.
We can’t compete with Scandinavian countries when it comes to rights for new mothers, but we have better rights than women from the USA as our paid maternity leaves are longer (14 weeks), we are entitled to more freedoms when it comes to unpaid leave, and employers are more flexible with regard to working mothers.
The Israeli psyche is aware of life’s precariousness, and our many wars and political struggles have snuffed out numerous precious lives. This element of not knowing - when our husbands, brothers and sons might be called up for war, or when the next outburst of violence will happen - has taught us to seize the day, to enjoy life, to take time for coffee with a friend, and to enjoy life’s journey, because you never know when it may be cut short.
Israelis are resilient and brave. Rockets raining down on our cities don’t stop us from going out, intifadas don’t keep us at home. It puts us on edge, to be sure, but we refuse to succumb to paralyzing fear. We show our defiance and our will through continuing with life.
Israel is a bubble of informality in the more formal cultures of the Middle East. One of the benefits of this is that it leads to a strange anti-hierarchical equality, an extreme egalitarianism in etiquette, and a lack of concern with status symbols.
The food! The produce here is fresh, filling and plentiful. Our vegetables are crunchy, crisp and flavorful. Our fruit is sweet and delectable. Our dairy products fresh, tangy, and creamy. Food and culture are closely intertwined, and in the marketplace you can see, smell and taste so many types of foods and cultures, a Mediterranean, European, Middle Eastern fusion.
For these reasons and more, I celebrate the good. Happy Independence Day to my fellow Israelis, and to those of you who celebrate with us.