A person turning 75 is not a spring chicken.
A country, well, that’s another matter entirely.
The Jewish people is immeasurably old; depending on how you define us and what you’re counting and how you view time, to get metaphysical, because when we’re talking about the Jewish people how can we not. We’re 5,000, or 4,000, or 3,000 years old. Give or take, of course.
But Israel the country, the political entity that the United Nations recognized in 1948, is about to turn 75.
For a country, that’s young. The United States, which we’ve always thought of as a new, or at least new-ish, nation, is 246. In its current form, the United Kingdom is 316 (although maybe not, because of Northern Ireland); Britain without the Great (that was only England and Wales) is 487, and England itself is 1,096. (Funny, it doesn’t look a day over 1,050…)
So there’s Israel, at 75, trying to find itself, maybe just entering its preteen phase.
All this is to say, or perhaps not to say, that Israel is going through a remarkably hard time right now. One of the truisms about Israel always has been that it’s only the pressure its enemies put on it from the outside that holds it together; without it, the center wouldn’t hold. And now, the outside pressure doesn’t seem to have been enough. The country is split evenly, but for now all the power is held by one side. Anger rages. If the country were a teapot, we’d hear an ear-shattering whistle all the way over here, halfway around the world.
But it’s not Pollyannish to say that there’s something else going on there too.
I don’t want to downplay the vastness of the stakes here. We’re seeing democracies teeter around the world, including here. The world is changing around us.
But the thing is, what’s going on in Israel is intense, but it’s not violent. (That is not to say that there is no violence in Israel. That’s patently untrue. There have been horrifying acts of terrorism and murder. The Dee family — sisters Maia and Rina and their mother, Lucy — were murdered by terrorists a little more than a week ago, and that was just the most recent horror. It is not to make light of it in any way to say that the violence seems so far to have been confined to the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, and is not happening at the rallies inside Israel.)
Protesters come out every Saturday night; they carry signs and food and flags. Flags! To greatly simplify, it is more or less people at the center-left and to their left who are protesting, and people to the center-right and to their right who are pleased with Netanyahu’s proposed changes. In this country, although similarly situated protesters are patriotic, like their right-leaning counterparts, the right seems to have a monopoly on the flag.
That’s not true in Israel.
There, the flag is everyone’s. People’s patriotism is not challenged, although of course their brains, common sense, and decency might well be. No one side has the right to the flag. People on all sides carry it with pride.
There is a great deal to worry about in Israel. The risk that the government will burst free of checks and balances is real. The internal pressures are huge.
But there also is hope. A great deal of it. We as a Jewish people haven’t made it this long — 5,000 years, or 4,000, or 3,000; even the shortest estimate is a very long time — to fail spectacularly now.
Israel is a miracle, rising out of the ashes of the Holocaust, in a place of historic resonance and deep beauty and clarifying light and hard-to-explain, hard-to-deny power over a visitor’s spirit and imagination.
So we wish Israel a happy birthday, with much love and hope for better times ahead.