May 15, 2008
Israel and I: The first 60 years
(Page 4 - Previous Page)2006
The Middle East situation was relatively quiet, so Rachel and I decided to treat ourselves, our youngest daughter, her husband and their three small kids to a real fun vacation at a fancy Tel Aviv hotel, facing a wide beach and a stunning view of the Mediterranean and the curving bay all the way to Jaffa.
Sitting on our balcony, watching the energetic paddleball players on the beach and the sun reflecting on the rippling sea, I felt as peaceful and as close to heaven as I was likely to get in this or the next world.
A few days before our arrival, however, Hamas had kidnapped an Israeli soldier near the Gaza Strip; shooting broke out and tension escalated. Better said, tension escalated in media reports around the world, though in Tel Aviv, it felt as if the fighting was happening on another continent.
"We've learned to separate our personal lives from outside events, otherwise we'd go crazy," a young relative explained to me. "That's our abnormal normality."
My brother-in-law emphasized the point by organizing a surprise family reunion in a park across from the Jerusalem Zoo. Some 85 relatives welcomed us, three generations of self-assured, strapping Jews, all descended from Rachel's parents and born in Israel. It struck me as the fulfillment of Herzl's dream.
Three days before our scheduled departure, Hezbollah kidnapped two more Israeli soldiers near the Lebanon border, fighting started for real and rockets fell on northern Israel.
So much of my life has been bound up with Israel that it's hard to put the country into perspective on its 60th anniversary. It's like trying to evaluate one's own existence on this planet.
There have been moments of euphoria and anxiety, great pride and times of cynicism and disappointment.
Israel's accomplishments have been almost incredible, but the idealistic hope that it might become a light unto the nations has not been -- and might never be -- fulfilled in this world.
Yet, whether he may realize it or not, there isn't a Jew anywhere who does not walk taller, whose spine is not straighter, because the Jewish state exists and thrives, in defiance of all the odds.
Am Yisrael Chai.
Tom Tugend, out of uniform, sits on Egypt-Palestine border stone after his unit helped take what is now Eilat in early 1949