The year since last Independence Day has been bad. Peace talks with the Palestinians dissolved into recriminations. Hamas was sworn into a Palestinian unity government. Three Jewish teens were murdered in the West Bank, and an East Jerusalem Arab teen was murdered in retaliation.
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The Gaza war left 67 Israelis and 2,310 Palestinians dead. Israel was deluged by rage around the world. A Haaretz columnist announced he wanted to leave the country because there was no future here.
A Facebook page by an anonymous young Israeli inviting other young Israelis to move to Berlin quickly earned 20,000 likes. A bad government fell and a new election promised to install an even worse one. In between, our relations with the United States became as bad as they’ve ever been.
It’s been a lousy year. Many people, especially leftists, are freighted with despair. And now, once again, Independence Day has come and we’re expected to celebrate the country.
Even in the best of times, this isn’t always easy for a leftist. It’s not in our character to find pleasure or inspiration in ponderous national ceremonies where politicians offer grandiloquent sanctimonies and cantors intone prayers in basso profondo.
The sonic boom of the annual air show can leave us unmoved. The Bible contest is an odd anachronism to most of us. And it can be hard to ignore that most Israel Prize winners are octogenarian Ashkenazim. And then there’s the fact that our independence is linked in a thousand ways to the Palestinians not having independence.
So how should an Israeli leftist mark Independence Day?
By celebrating. By remembering on this day what we too often forget on other days.
By remembering that in a little over a hundred years — barely a scratch in history — we built from nothing, and with nothing, cities and roads and schools and factories and laboratories and concert halls and playhouses. We filled them with genius and passion and originality.
By remembering that in its 67 years, Israel has ingathered immigrants — some broke and broken — from a hundred countries, and that even today most Israelis are immigrants or children of immigrants.
By remembering that these people have turned soil and poured asphalt and mixed cement and written poems and made movies and composed symphonies and won Nobel Prizes.
By remembering how, when a toddler enters a room in Israel, all eyes are on her.
By remembering how easy Israelis smile and laugh, and how, at the start of every visit abroad, strangers seem cold and closed by comparison.
An Israeli leftist should celebrate Independence Day by remembering how much there is to celebrate on Independence Day. By remembering how successful our parents and grandparents were in building this place — how much they left us to love in this place.
The things that worry us throughout the year are real. There are reasons to despair. But there are better reasons not to. We can celebrate Independence Day by remembering how remarkable Israel is, and how worthy it is to fight for.