...The reality at the time was harsh, almost unbearable: disease, swamps, scarce livelihood and dwindling security. But the hands of the few who believed created miracles. They followed their hearts, feeling that it was up to their dreams to shape reality, and not, God forbid, to withdraw from it. It was up to them to let their faith lead while acting wisely, to move forward with feeling and not to listen to the experts. As the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, said: "There are no experts on the future, only experts on the past."
20 April '15..
I never thanked my grandfather for packing up his meager belongings and coming to Israel in 1924, not to find a place safe from persecution, but simply because he knew that the Jewish people belonged in Israel.
It was not the obvious choice then, and it is not the obvious choice now. He and his ilk were part of the minority of the last few generations who came to the historic homeland not because of persecution and pogroms, but simply because they felt committed to their Jewish genes, to the historical, religious and national baggage that ties them to this place.
Their courage was perhaps different from that of the warriors on the battlefields, but it was no less magnificent. They deserve this belated thanks. Not, God forbid, as a way to diminish those who did come here out of distress and fear. We owe them thanks for our continued existence, for my parents' generation, my own generation and that of my children, as it is doubtful that we would have survived the horrors of the Holocaust in Europe had they stayed.
They deserve our gratitude for the understanding that they instilled in us that, even before this land became a safe haven for the refugees of the pogroms and the Holocaust, it was our destination; that while we might be here today thanks to our strength, we were here before thanks to the strength of our right; that security, which is today the central subject of discussion when it comes to Israel, is meant to allow us to realize our right to live here (in security, of course).
Many years ago, a member of the British House of Lords asked then-President Chaim Weizmann why the Jews were so insistent upon Israel when there were so many other places for them to settle. Weizmann responded: "That is like my asking you why you drove 20 miles to visit your mother last Sunday when there are so many old ladies living on your street."
And indeed, the land we came to, the land in which we re-established Jewish sovereignty, is above all our motherland. Unfortunately, all we speak about nowadays is security, while the conversation about our rights remains marginalized. Security is not everything. You cannot base domestic or international legitimacy on Jerusalem, Hebron or Beersheba, while ignoring the Bible, the patriarchs and the matriarchs, the Temple Mount, the City of David and the millennia-long story of a people yearning to return to their homeland. After all, we could have had security this past century in Brooklyn, London, or maybe even Uganda.
The students of the Vilna Gaon, who moved to Israel at the beginning of the 19th century, and the Jews of Yemen who came to the transit camps at the end of that century, did not come here because it was safe. They came despite the fact that it was less safe.
The State of Israel was not established because of the Holocaust, but in spite of the Holocaust that tried to destroy us.
The country's infrastructure -- which relies on our right, our heritage and Jewish identity -- was laid before then by the few that came here because their natural Jewish intuition led them to the land in their hearts and minds, the Land of Israel.
The reality at the time was harsh, almost unbearable: disease, swamps, scarce livelihood and dwindling security. But the hands of the few who believed created miracles. They followed their hearts, feeling that it was up to their dreams to shape reality, and not, God forbid, to withdraw from it. It was up to them to let their faith lead while acting wisely, to move forward with feeling and not to listen to the experts. As the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, said: "There are no experts on the future, only experts on the past."
So Independence Day is the right time to say thank you to that generation, only a few of whose members are still among us.
For me, personally, that means my grandparents: Shlomo Zalman and Miriam Shragai, Yitzhak and Bilha Schnerb, and my wonderful in-laws, Yehuda and Miriam Ovadiah.
If you haven't waited too long, you'd better hurry up and say thanks, too.