This Is Your Israel. Be Proud. Let Darkness Fail.

Something snapped in me last week. It began when a cop closed our street. It was Palestinian Israeli Orthodox Christmas in Jaffa. I didn't know it yet, but I wasn't going to be the same after this.

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Christian Palestinians attend the lighting of a Christmas tree in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, West Bank, December 5, 2015.
Christian Palestinians attend the lighting of a Christmas tree in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, West Bank, December 5, 2015. Credit: AP
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

Something snapped in me last week. It began when a cop closed our street.

It was Christmas in our neighborhood. The police closed the main boulevard for a parade. It was Palestinian Israeli Orthodox Christmas in Jaffa, a sublime community phantasmagoria. A little like a Christmas anywhere else, and a lot like a Christmas nowhere else. 

I didn’t know it yet, but I wasn't going to be the same after this.

At the heart of it, outshining all of it – the fireworks showering the church, the squint-and-you-see-Rockefeller-Center fir, the congregational marching band and the brace of bell-ringing, Arabic-singing Santas – outshining all of it were the faces of the kids. 

It was this Holy Land at its sweet best. 

I could feel something breaking down inside me. Something about the reflex of negativity I've grown to develop here, to rely on here for protection, for a semblance of a sense of power or of control or of reason. 

I knew it was still there, that negativity gland, secreting its bile of bitterness and resignation, that blinding internal acid of cynicism, that corrosive solution of disappointment and deterioration and disgust.

But, leaving the Christmas parade – this at a time of a feverish murder manhunt and a newly opened abyss in the relations between Jews and non-Jews in the state of Israel – something broke apart inside me, shattered by the realization that hundreds of people had just taken part in a celebration of birth and of life itself.  

At the darkest time of the year, at one of the darkest times of their nation, hundreds of people had just let darkness fail.

Just that morning, bus driver Ruti Tehrani, an Israeli Jew, did exactly the same thing when passengers, fearing terrorism, began demanding that she force an elderly man to leave the bus for talking to himself in Arabic.

Tehrani could have followed the example two days before of an Aegean Airways crew, who bowed to the demands of Israeli Jewish travelers and removed two Israeli Arab passengers from the airliner.

Instead, driver Tehrani asked the Arabic-speaking man if he needed help. She then told her passengers that she had no intention of ejecting the man from her bus. If any of the passengers wanted to leave, she added, they were welcome to do so.

Half got off.

Tehrani finished her Dan 129 route from Tel Aviv to Petah Tikva. “Here in the company everyone’s equal — Jews and Arabs," she said later. "My upbringing was to respect everyone and not discriminate against anyone.” 

The bus company agreed, calling her actions "a model and an example." 

"It’s a great [source of] pride for us as a company, and for all the drivers and public in general.”

Ruti Tehrani, three years behind the wheel, let darkness fail.

What was left of my negativity reflex hung in there, though, until the end of the week, when a nearby school event managed to disable it altogether. 

On Friday, the astonishing Bialik Rogozin School in Tel Aviv held a joint celebration of Jewish, Muslim and Christian holidays, the Festival of All the Festivals, for its pupils and their parents - families from no fewer than 51 countries, many of them migrants and refugees whose most cherished wish is to be allowed to remain in Israel.

Quite clearly, for the children - from their Sabra Hebrew to their spirit and energy and bottomless vitality, and yes, positivity - this is already home.

The pupils performed songs and dances from continent after continent. They sang in Hebrew and Arabic and in languages most of the rest us have never heard. These kids were proud of where they'd come from, and proud of where they'd come. 

"Where is the world located?" asked school principal Eli Nechama.

The kids knew the answer. "Here."

As one of the school's legion of admirers remarked in a serious reference to a take-no-prisoners political satire television program, the kids and teachers and parents of the Bialik Rogozin School truly represent a "Wonderful Country," without the quotation marks.

The week had begun as dark as they come. On the Friday before, New Year's Day, a Palestinian had machine gunned to death two Jews and an Arab. All four were Israelis. On Saturday the guy in charge here set up a podium at the murder scene. Referring to the country's Palestinian citizens, he then told us that whoever wanted to be Israeli needed to be "Israelim Ad Ha-Sof" – Israelis all the way. Israelis through and through. Israelis to the end. 

It took me a whole week, and having something break inside, to realize what that phrase really means. 

The kids at Bialik Rogozin and the kids in the Christmas parade, every bit as much as Ruti Tehrani and the passengers who stayed on her bus, are Israelim Ad Ha Sof. 

A source of pride. An example of courage. Some of the best this country has to offer.

What does it mean to be "Israeli all the way"? It means, wherever you are, whatever part you play, you do everything you can to let darkness fail. 

It takes no courage to spread hatred, to post venom on Facebook and Twitter. What takes courage, in a week and a year which began with murder and was laced in bigotry, is to fight hatred with the only weapon bigots and racists and political fanatics cannot ultimately defeat. Life itself. 

It's not darkness that takes courage. It's light.

It's a New Year. Let Israel live. Let darkness fail.

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