Justin Amler: It’s wonderful to be a Jew on Yom Haatzmaut
Thoughts on Yom Haatzmaut: I have a Jewish heart inside – a heart that beats to a 4000 year old rhythm. Whether I’m in Melbourne or in Jerusalem or in the last remaining unexplored corner of the earth, it goes on. Across thousands of year of horrors and tragedies and triumphs, it just keeps on beating. And it beats unconditionally, whether I’m feeling patriotic and desperate to embrace my people, or whether I’m feeling distant and eager to run away from them. Its beat does not depend on the Prime Minister or the government of the day. It’s not even limited on whether Israel does something that drives me crazy, or whether Israel does something that drives me to love it even more.
But when I see the Israeli flag rising, fluttering in the wind and when I hear the first chords of the national anthem of Hatikvah, my spirits begin to fly and my soul begins to soar. Just as it did aboard a ship called the “Unafraid” back in 1945 – a ship carrying Holocaust survivors. When faced with arrest from the British for trying to enter the Land of Israel, they raised the same Jewish flag and they sang the same Jewish song. This was their answer to a world who wanted them dead.
Our anthem is one that talks of hope and it talks of freedom and it talks of yearning and it talks of home. With its haunting music, it ignites our passion, connecting us to all our ancestors who sang the same songs of hope and yearning and freedom and home.
Oh – how lucky are we to be alive at this moment in history, at this moment in time along history’s continuous journey.
And yet, as Yom Haatzmaut nears, I read online and I read articles and I read Facebook posts about Israeli Arabs who do not share my joy. And I get that – I do. But I also know there are plenty who do celebrate the uniqueness of Israel and serve in its Army and its police force fighting to protect this special place on earth.
I’m not oblivious to those who hate the country. I hear the shouts. I hear the chants. I see the marches. I see the anger. But unlike the Jewish citizens of Israel, the Arab citizens are not alone in this world. 22 Arab countries surround Israel with similar cultures. More than 50 countries with a majority population of Muslims. 22% of the world’s population is Muslim and just 0.2% is Jewish. 1.5 billion Muslims and just 14 million Jews. That’s not what’s called being alone in this world.
Jews are dispersed across the globe, and they are singing with pride the anthems of the countries in which they live and many are singing the anthem of their Jewish homeland with equal pride. And while they are singing under flags that might not represent them, they’re singing it anyway, because they are good citizens, just wanting to live their lives in peace according to their customs.
But history is a cruel teacher and despite the comfort and the warmth of their hosts, the chasm between acceptance and rejection is never far. Loving the Jews and hating them is just one small step. Jews were reasonably comfortable in Europe too once upon a time with thriving cultures and strong traditions. But powerless. And in a few short years, all of that was decimated, ripped out of this world along with 6 million Jewish souls.
And where was their narrative? Where was the world rushing to help them? Where were the international committees driven by a sense of justice, trying to save this people of so few? They were quiet, not prepared to get involved in something that did not rate highly on their radar of morality. And so my people were ignored, left to a cruel fate by a cruel world.
And once the war had ended they weren’t simply ignored, allowed to rebuild their societies from the remnants of Europe’s ashes. No, the British actually declared war on these Jewish refugees — people who had survived hell itself — and they did everything in their power to prevent our ancient Jewish homeland from rising up again.
But they weren’t alone, for the Arabs promised to eliminate and destroy the Jews – informing the Arabs in Israel to run away, so they wouldn’t be killed in the blood-letting that was about to be unleashed. And yet somehow Israel survived and despite many more wars, still does.
So now today Israel has the strongest military in the Middle East – an army that does not simply exist to hold parades for soldiers who died in conflicts that many people in the world today haven’t even heard of. They exist, because if they didn’t then Israel wouldn’t exist. It has no other choice – the fate of the Jewish people depend on it.
So how can I not be moved when I see the Israeli flag hoisted – a flag that carries on it the Jewish Star of David? How can I not feel anything, but immense pride, knowing that this flag is the symbol of Jewish sovereignty – a sovereignty that says that never again will we be at the mercy of a world that does not care. Never again will we depend on empty promises and rhetoric by a world that ignores us in our most desperate hour of need. Never again will our shouts of anguish be met only with a wall of silence.
I love this country and the hope and pride and honour it represents. I love this country for giving my people life itself! Because should the winds of change turn, and the darkness that is trickling through the world becomes an avalanche, my cries of desperation will not go unanswered. Not this time.
Unlike Israel’s neighbours who wanted, and many still want, to destroy it and snuff out the last remaining Jewish presence in the Middle East, Israel’s goals were far simpler. It just wanted to live and allow its citizens to live too, to raise children who can laugh and play, breathing fresh air as free people in a free land – their land.
For the Arab citizens who mourn the existence of a Jewish country, I do not mourn with you. I do not celebrate your history while you deny mine, and I do not lament your lack of Arab glory in pushing the Jews into the sea in a holy war for Arab honour. Your nakba is the survival of my homeland and I’ll never be mourning that.
And for the Arab citizens who do celebrate the existence of this Jewish country, then I celebrate with you. Yes, you’re a minority, but a minority with the same rights to breathe the same fresh air in the same free land.
But if being a minority is not acceptable, then you have the choice to join many countries in which you will be part of the majority – just as Jews around the world have done when they’ve made Aliyah to Israel – the only country in which they are a majority.
It is wonderful to be a Jew today – a Jew who after 2000 years in exile has returned to our own country. It’s wonderful to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, our renewed independence. It is wonderful to know that our long history that contains much sadness will be the opposite of our future that contains much hope. It’s wonderful to know that in each and every generation, our history will be celebrated openly in pride, not hidden in fear. From Abraham to Joseph to Moses to Samuel to David all the way through to David Ben Gurion to Golda Meir to Binyamin Netanyahu to whoever comes next.
And that’s not wrong. It is the complete opposite of wrong. It is just so incredibly right.
We have a homeland – and we are lucky to have that homeland. That’s something to celebrate, just as the hundreds of millions of Arabs around the Middle East should celebrate their homelands too, rather than be obsessed with destroying mine.
Israel is a Jewish country that should have its Jewish history celebrated too. And its non Jewish citizens should always be made to feel welcome, because they too are part of this country. Yet how different is that to the Arab world who rather than allow their minorities to live in peace, decided to expel its Jewish citizens – and wipe out over 2500 years of Jewish presence in their midst.
Arab countries can mourn not being able to destroy Israel – that’s their right. And Arab citizens can choose to mourn that too – that’s their right too.
But we don’t need to mourn with them. We don’t need to mourn our survival. We don’t need to mourn our stubbornness. We don’t need to mourn our strength. We don’t need to mourn the return of the indigenous Jewish people to their homeland, having turned a 2000 year ancient dream into a modern day reality.
Instead we only need to celebrate.
For we are free – a free people living in our free land — the Jewish State of Israel.
You can contact Justin on his Facebook page.