The teacher walked into class and hung a huge map up on the blackboard. I recall her searching for a little dot on the map. And then, as she was pointing to the dot, she said, "Children, the Shiffers (my late brother Aaron and I) are going to immigrate to a country called Israel." And she concluded, "It is a desolate place, a desert, and the main form of transportation at the residents' disposal is camels. And one other thing: There isn't a single potato for man to eat."
To be honest, I wasn't alarmed by the teacher's description. Our late father had prepared us well for making aliyah to Israel. He made sure we got a parcel from the Joint every year, and in it were oranges, figs and dates from Israel. During school holidays, he would hire a Hebrew teacher to teach us the Hebrew letters, and every once in a while, he would pull out a piece of paper from the bottom of his siddur (Jewish prayer book) with the words of "Hatikvah" written on it. This is how we became familiar with the anthem's words "to be a free nation in our land" while still living in a remote village in Hungary.
Many years later, as sometimes happens to me when I escort our prime ministers on their travels around the world on behalf of Yedioth Ahronoth, I find myself choking with tears when the band plays "Hatikvah."
And so, my Israeli moment happens during these receptions: I can recall the landing of our Air Force in the Arab Emirate of Oman in early April 1996. The prime minister, Shimon Peres, was received by a guard of honor comprised of the emirate's soldiers wearing Ghalabia (traditional Arabic garment) and head covers, their inserted into their cummerbunds. Peres and his hosts stood under a small wooden structure, Israeli flags waving upwards, while the band of the emirate bordering Yemen and Saudi Arabia played "Hatikvah."
It's easy to mock Peres, who then spoke of a "new Middle East," of reaching a compromise with the Arab world and primarily an accord with the Palestinians, which eventually went up in flames and cost us many Israeli casualties who have been killed in murderous terror attacks on buses and in populated areas in Israel. But Peres wanted to provide Israelis and Palestinians with a better future.
This Israeli moment repeated itself once again during the reception held by the Russians in honor of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his first formal visit in Moscow pursuant to his election for premiership. The gigantic Red Army band played "Hatikvah," as Sharon stood poised, his head held up high in attention.
I choked with tears.