Celebrating Israel at 75 for me always comes down to the people…and fortunately for me, many memories. Between my family’s experiences and my own, I’ve chosen a few to share here.
• My father, Victor, and his parents, Irvin and Elizabeth with his brother, Alex, in utero, landing in British Mandate Palestine in 1947. My Great Uncle, Menachem, a Holocaust survivor, served the fledgling state as a soldier in the war of Independence where he lost an eye and part of his thumb. There was nothing he wouldn’t have sacrificed for the freedom of being a free nation in our land, l’hiot am chofshi B’artzenue.
• While I learned about Israel in day school and yearned to be reunited with Jerusalem through my prayers in synagogue or through Israeli folk songs shared by the Caravan at JCC summer camp, my personal relationship with Israel developed when I spent eight weeks at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program with hundreds of kids from around the United States digging deep into the history, culture, language, and geology of Israel. That was the summer Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and it was also the summer where I told my parents there was no other place I wanted to be, and I would not get on a plane home.
• During the Gulf war, right after, where scud missiles were falling on the land, I thought about my teacher, Bob, and friends, Gila and Dube and their three young kids, Ben, Aviv, and Hadar and wanted to return to help.
• When I went back with my family the next summer, we explored the neighborhood of what was once the Caravanim in Haifa around the block from the school for the blind where by mother, Susan, lived until age eight.
• I spent my junior year Israeli dancing around Jerusalem with my best friend, Tamar, while learning Hebrew and Arabic at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, connecting with my Israeli family, the branches of families that survived the Holocaust with my grandparents, Ariyeh, Chana, Nira, and Yaakov and their children. This was the year following the Oslo Accords, where I was able to hear Yitzchak Rabin, a hawk turned dove share his hope, tikvah, with us on Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day. Later that same year, I wept on the couch in the common room in my dorm at Brandeis, mourning at his funeral.
• Meeting Hibuki, while visiting Sderot and not sharing this site visit with my family until after so they would not worry if they heard a red alert siren in the area.
• Sending each of our children, Tali, Itzik, and Ilanit, to the same summer program I attended and seeing their own relationship with and understanding of the complexity of our homeland flourish. Leaving my eldest while she was there to plan a rally for Israel back home during a situation when rockets were falling because she, too, felt there was no other place for her to be and would not have left with me (nor would I have asked her to).
• Last month, at 1:45 am via zoom, I attended my great nephew, Michael Adir’s bris in a shul in Tel Aviv.
• Also last month, my friend, Yaara, an artist, had her first art opening in her gallery in Jaffa, showcasing the amazing stories of women and families in Israel, Jewish and Arab, who open their hearts and provide warm and loving homes to kids in need of foster families.
My Israel is made of the people. May they continue to go from strength to strength. Am Yisrael Chai.
Naomi Limor Sedek is president and CEO, Tidewater Jewish Foundation. She may be reached at email@example.com.