I Thank God That There's an Israel

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Students from Tel Aviv’s Bialik-Rogozin School in south Tel Aviv, which has a high proportion of foreign workers’ children.Credit: Tali Mayer

There's a guy I know from working out in the park near here. On paper we've probably got nothing in common. Lucky for me, no one uses paper anymore.

He is Muslim, a carpenter, a Palestinian from Jaffa. I am Jewish, a journalist, an American from LA. But we are fathers of daughters, and that, it turns out, is the kind of thing that counts.

Over time, we have come to wish each other "Achla Yom," an Arabic-Hebrew amalgam, which, when we first see each other, means "Awesome day, isn't it?" When one of us turns to leave, it means "Have a great one."

And when we ask the other how they're doing, the answer, in one language or another, is "Thank God."

This week of the mourning-laden Jewish fast of Tisha B'Av, the talk turned to religion, what it's supposed to do for people. And about murderers on both of our sides who kill in the name of God. Who kill children asleep in their beds.

"God created all the people," he told me in our common non-mother tongue of Hebrew. "Why would He want people to murder anyone He created? It's not okay just because the killer has a beard and calls himself religious.

"Da'ish (the Islamic State) talks nonsense about Jihad. But the true jihad, the great jihad, means making a family, getting married, bringing up children to be good people."

People like him.

Every day, I thank God that there's an Israel.

I thank God for the best in us.

I thank God for those who observe, in a thousand ways, the Talmudic instruction: In a place where no one is acting as a human being, do your best to be that human being.

I thank God for the soldiers of the 8200 Military Intelligence Unit, who asked to volunteer to work with the children of asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv.

I thank God for their commanding officers, who had the courage and the heart to back their soldiers, despite political pressure from the highest levels.

I thank God that there are places here like the Bialik-Rogozin school in Tel Aviv, for children of foreign workers, refugees and asylum seekers.

And for the principal of the school, Eli Nechama, who wrote on Monday:

"The decision by [Defense Minister Avigdor] Lieberman and deputy minister [Eli Ben Dahan] to forbid IDF soldiers from volunteering with children of foreign workers, refugees, and asylum seekers has forced me to interrupt my self-imposed Facebook 'summer-vacation silence' to remind them that wars are not fought on the backs of children and that we are all the children of Life.

"One hundred percent of the school's eligible graduates enlist in the IDF - many of them in elite units. We even have an officer in the making. They have taken part in the Gadna youth preparatory military program and Holocaust Remembrance missions to Poland, and volunteer to serve Holocaust survivors at Cafe Europa. They do not deserve to be punished!"

Adapting and transforming a slogan from an entirely different context, Nechama concluded:

"Let the IDF win and let its soldiers continue to volunteer and display their values, egalitarianism, and ethics."

This place, the unfathomable, undeniable, undepletable power in it, still transforms, inspires, and  - although bringing out the very worst in some of us – summons the very best in many of the rest of us. Thank God.

It is this place. Not the government. Despite the government.

I may never understand why everyone here is family. Family in a sense that is deeper than anywhere else I have ever known. Family which makes average people come forward and do extraordinary things for others.

I may not understand why everyone here is family. But I thank God for it.

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