Feeling Israeli for me is all about longing – those little pricks in the pit of your stomach which creep up whenever you're a long way from home; It's walking around in a strange city and missing a familiar pavement; it's sitting in a fancy restaurant and getting a craving for Shawarma; it's standing near a pool in an international conference and getting a slight whiff of that unique freshly-cut-grass scent, you can't smell anywhere but here.
In my 30 years of being a military correspondent, I've been through my share of monumental "Israeli moments," when you take real pride in belonging.
I've seen my share of heroics, of pain, of emotional ceremonies and flags flying high; of people singing Hatikva with tears in their eyes. And still, the most Israeli moments burnt in my mind are the small ones. Little images of what, to me, is the essences of Israeliness.
Moments like walking around Cairo six years after the Yom Kippur War and having people come up to you, talk to you, in complete disbelief that before them stands a red-blooded Israeli; having them tell you – with honest amazement – that you 'look just like us'; and going back to that moment when you were laying on a stakeout on the Suez-Cairo highway, making every kind of deal with God, just to get out of there alive.
Frozen in time
And that moment in Auschwitz, when you're standing in the memorial room next to people who have lost their parents to the Holocaust and their sons to one of our wars, and they say Kadish for their parents and tell you about their dead son, and despite your solemn oath you find yourself falling apart in that dark room – where you think no one can really see you – every single Jewish cell in your body exploding to a million little atoms; and for a split-second you just burn up, and that scar marks you as an Israeli. Forever.
And those moments of military tension in 1996, on the Syrian-Turkish border. You're out there all alone, you don't know anyone, don't speak the language, and all of a sudden you see a synagogue – a tiny little Jewish community, keeping a low profile in a sea of Alawites (a sect of Shiite Islam) and they take you in and shower you with love – simply because you're an Israeli. And you, so sure, so cocky, ask to see the Turkish governor of the province. They're afraid, ask you not to be so conspicuous, but you go anyway – you'll show them what an Israeli is all about. And yes, the governor treats you well, but when you return – their faces… faces you'll never forget, asking "why did you do that to us? You're going home; we have to stay here, with him…"
And all of those tiny moments of exhilaration, the ones you can't help because they're part of your Israeli genetics: Like getting goosebumps when you hear a certain song; or walking down a street and seeing a note reminding you of a coming memorial service for this and this, and you look at the fine print and see the words "fell in the 1997 helicopter disaster", and you feel like someone kicked you in the chest. That kick is beyond explanation. It's an Israeli code.
And yes, every year you find yourself parked in front of the television, watching the lighting of the beacons in the ceremony marking Independence Day and secretly enjoying it – all of it – including the military march, the handing over of banners and even the reciting that goes along with it. But some things you will never confess to. Ever.