As this summer closes, Sam and I have recently been waxing nostalgic. We mentioned that something feels different or lacking from previous summers. Soon we put our finger on it. This was the first summer in over a decade during which we had not visited Israel. We felt an inner longing, one that we could not quite identify until we read a poignant article this week by Matti Friedman. It gave us pangs of nostalgia for our days living there, many days of carefree abandon and yet, some days of conflict and unrest. We shared that, on separate occasions, we each found our days characterized by emails to friends and families, promising them it was safe to come visit us in Israel. Friedman’s article analyzes the film “Born in Jerusalem and Still Alive,” which recently won the prize for best first feature at the Jerusalem Film Festival.
Through this article, Friedman enables us to enter the Israeli psyche to understand the pain of memory, specifically of the Second Intifada, and how that also informs the Israeli present. Of course, these past few days here in the United States, we are all too familiar with the pain of memory, having just marked 18 years since the attack that changed our country and ourselves forever.
Yesterday, people around the globe united and mourned the thousands of lives lost on September 11th, 2001. Sadly, this is yet another turning point that links these two countries together. It turns out that Israel is the only other country in the world with a 9/11 memorial that lists all of the names of those who perished in the attacks, including five Israelis. The memorial, in Israel’s capital Jerusalem, is also the only 9/11 Memorial in the entire Middle East. Perhaps it is because Israel is an ironclad democratic ally of the United States, or perhaps it is because that pain of memory that Friedman mentions above burns so deep in Israel.
We mourn, and we commit ourselves to never, ever forget. Just as we never, ever forget the brutal attacks that took place during the first and second Intifadas – all representing the worst of humanity.
It turns out this coming Tuesday, September 17th, Israel will hold national parliamentary elections, an election unlike ever before. These elections mark the first time in Israeli history that the Knesset voted to dissolve itself before a government had been formed, after the earlier elections this year on April 9th.
As many may know, Israel has a unique law that requires citizens to be physically present in the country in order to vote. In the past, I have insisted on flying back to fulfill this great civic duty, but this year, Sam convinced me my time was better spent on the home-front. And yet, though I myself will not cast a ballot, I will beam with pride as Israel demonstrates her robust democracy.
It would be easy to think these far-away, unprecedented elections do not matter. It would be easy to throw up our hands in frustration given the complex realities of coalition politics, and the fact that Israel just had elections a few months ago. It would be easy to do the same given Israel’s complicated geopolitical status, and the various groups within Israel competing for a voice. The barrier to entry can be high. To understand Israel requires determination and commitment. And yet for those of us who have been there…for those of us who understand her importance to the Jewish People, we know how well it is worth it.
An exciting event looms on the horizon for the Jewish People. The World Zionist Congress will conduct elections shortly, an opportunity for every Jew over the age of 18 around the world, to vote and leave an imprint on Israeli and Jewish society. Stay tuned for more details on how you can vote and get involved. In the meantime, we commit ourselves to making Israel a deep part of our lives, even if thousands of miles separate us.
As many of you know, the Hamas terrorist group continues to fire rockets on civilians in Southern Israel. 18 years since we saw vicious evil face to face, that same implacable evil persists. 18 years since the heart of the second Intifada that so scarred the Jewish homeland, the same hatred persists.
18…also a number in Judaism that represents life.
Let us commit ourselves to life, to sanctifying life, and making all of the victim’s memories into the blessings they so deserve. As we find ourselves deep in the month of Elul, and as the High Holy Days approach, we say, L’chayim, to Life.
Looking forward to seeing y’all next week.
Shabbat Shalom U’Mevurach,