Religion & Beliefs

Birth Writing: Hear, O Israel

Still down and out in Israel. This time with 100% more tears. Read More

By / March 8, 2011
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We began the day at independence hall, sitting before the very stage where 63 years ago, the state of Israel held a private press conference to officially declare its independence. Broadcast on radio station Tzlil, it was a moment of utter joy for Jews everywhere.

A delightful woman whose name escapes me but whose practiced remarks led our tour, but her joyous delivery never will. Once we’d heard all the trivia, they sat us down and played the original radio broadcast for us, ending with an orchestral rendering of the Tikva, a song that was not yet the anthem but within minutes would undoubtedly be.

We rose. We removed our hats. And we listened to the swell, the thundering drums, the soaring strings, and from the front row, I began to hear the low murmur of voices – not from the broadcast but instead from our soldiers in the front row. I didn’t even notice that I had joined in, tentatively at first, then stronger, prouder and more confident. It grew louder and more melodic as we grew bolder, and soon we all were singing, soldiers and Americans, travelers, pilgrims, citizens, proud Jews all.

“Kol od balevav penima…”

This is Judaism to me. This is pride and this is truth and this is staggering beauty.

I have never been a political man. I’m not quite sure why. I come from a long line of Zionists and activists. My father was very much embroiled in the anti-Apartheid movement in Johannesburg in the seventies and to this day has very distinct opinions on local, global, social and religious politics that he will GLADLY discuss with whoever is foolish enough to engage him in debate. I myself don’t pose as a politician or even a student of politics – usually, I embrace my own ignorance. To be opinionless is to be safe from being wrong.

Israel is more complicated than I’ve possibly imagined. So young, so new, held in sacred regard by the greater population of the whole world. It is a shrug and a sigh. It is a tragic and beautiful conundrum and I don’t know how I feel about it besides, now, loving it with all my being. I know it is important, extremely important. I know it should – it NEEDS to exist. And I wish I could grab every hand and force them to shake. I wish this wall didn’t need to stand. I wish my new soldier friends could live free and open lives in any manner they choose, a coveted freedom we flaunt and ignore and waste. I wish I knew what was right. I wish this wasn’t so hard. I wish that even now, editing this entry I originally wrote on my iPhone at the back of the bus en route to Beer Sheva, that thinking these things didn’t fill my eyes with tears.

I wish.

But some things never change. The day was to conclude with our first official sanctioned night out in Tel Aviv. I had plans to meet up with my cousin Adam, and while we strolled the twisting orange colored alleys of port Yaffe in the waning afternoon light, I felt a pair of hands fall on my shoulders. He had found me, and we embraced as brothers.

We had been scheduled to have a dance lesson – by gorgeous delightful Vera, whose unbridled joy on the dance floor I wrote about in an earlier entry. As she led everyone onto a makeshift dance floor for their lesson, Adam and I sat back on stone benches and caught up on our lives over the decade it has been since we’ve last seen each other. He discussed his experiences as a foreigner in the Israeli army, as a foreigner now living, working and studying here in Israel.

We discussed my grandfather, Dov Judah, or Dovie Yehuda as he is known here, the very first navigator in the Israeli air force during the Independence War. He and my grandmother Elsie were wed during the war; took their honeymoon there too. I had known this, my family’s deep connection to Israel, but had forgotten the weight of it all. To be reminded here, to effectively be studying my own history – the feelings are overwhelming.

There are no words, no glittering prose my fingers can type out that can tell you what this meant to me.

We were taken next to the Natal, a vibrant port area in Tel Aviv where we strolled through the rain to The Octopus, a huge glowing nightclub just off the pier. Soon the drinks were flowing and the music played loud, and sooner still mostly everyone from the bus was huddled and jumping and screaming with delight, sweaty and unencumbered with the weight of our day.

Particularly inspired after a round of scotch, I sped through the club with my now-trademark captain’s hat in a desperate attempt to unite the masses.

It was exactly that kind of night. We grooved, we jived, we spun and dropped and shook our things. We busted moves that will go down in history as the most busted moves that any man, woman or child has ever busted.