When I first came to Israel last summer I got into a deep discussion with my Israeli friend, who after three years that included fighting in the 2006 Lebanon War was almost done with his army service. Towards the end of our talk he looked in my eyes, shook his head and said, "we come from different realities."
It wasn’t until this month that I think I am beginning to truly understand that moment.
When I walk around Tel Aviv and I see the Israeli flag flying proudly on every corner, or the graffiti on many walls declaring ‘Am Y’Israel’ it hits me with the fierce pride that Israelis have for their country. Israelis have to fight the world every day to prove that they have the right to even be called Israeli. There are countries that still refuse to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and even worse there are people within western democracies who continue to protest Israel’s existence every day.
There was a recent survey conducted in America asking if people would be more or less likely to date someone who defined themselves as patriotic. The results? Ninety percent of the nation would be LESS likely to go out with someone who included patriotism as one of their attributes. Patriotism in America is often regarded as a sham and flag waving is left to the ignorant isolationists who believe that America can do no wrong.
The difference between American and Israeli patriotism is that the majority of Americans do not have to lift a finger to prove that they have a right to be American. When we fight wars we don’t fight on our own soil. We fight in far away countries that make it easy to forget on a day-to-day basis that we are even fighting a war at all. Before the 9/11 terror attacks, terrorism was not the overriding national security concern for the US government under either the Clinton or the pre-9/11 Bush administration.
In Israel, people live with terror every day. Kids grow up knowing that they will serve in the army and possibly give their lives to stop the constant rocket and suicide bomb attacks that have plagued Israel since its birth.
This is something that I knew, something that I had been told for years, but until I went and visited the town of Sderot, this was a reality that I could not possibly wrap my head around.
Since Israel returned the Gaza strip in 2005, over 7,000 Qassam rockets have been fired into Israel from the territory. Even during the ceasefires, rockets continue to fall and the Color Red alarm continues to sound, sending residents running for safety in the 15 seconds they have before the rocket comes crashing down.
Never did I think a place could exist where it was acceptable to have a playground in which every piece of equipment is a brightly painted bomb shelter. Never did I think I would visit a school that is a partial bomb shelter so if you are in class on the other side of campus you are out of luck. Never did I think I would walk down a street where every house had been hit by a rocket, and yet people continue to live there.
House hit by rocket in Sderot (Photo: Reuters)
In New York every Saturday there is a protest in Union Square where people shout for Nazi Israel to stop its bullying. I would like to think that if this group of uneducated people were to come visit Sderot they would start to ask themselves who the real bully is.
I can’t pretend that I grew up with the same reality as an Israeli, and I can’t say that I know what it is like to see my brother, my sister, or my father willingly want to go and fight for Israel’s survival. But I can say that I have the utmost respect for Israeli pride and the right for people to fight to be Israeli.
This Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), as I stood with the rest of the country, I bowed my head in silence thanks to the soldiers who gave their lives so that Israel can and will continue to exist.