For the first time since making aliyah 37 years ago, we found ourselves in the heart of the city for Independence Day, having exchanged our big house in the boring suburbs for a little apartment in the center of town.
“Let’s go out!” I begged my husband, who didn’t need to be begged. We walked through the darkening streets, looking for the crowds. To our surprise, all we saw were some couples walking in the direction of Liberty Bell Gardens.
We followed them, imagining a huge celebration just around the corner, full of hora-dancing hordes delirious with Sixtieth Anniversary mirth. We kept searching for children with plastic hammers and spaghetti string aerosol cans, hoping to be bumped or sprayed. But all we saw were people like us, more and more of them passing us in the opposite direction.
“Let’s get a taxi to King George Street,” my husband said after about an hour. “Maybe that’s where everyone is.”
But by then it was after ten p.m., and although I hated to admit it, I was actually rather tired. And thirsty.
“Let’s go in some place and get a drink,” I said.
Always accommodating, my husband pointed to Café Joe’s. But all I could see was a solitary man inside nursing a cup of coffee. It seemed a rather pathetic company to be in on such a night.
I sighed. “Why don’t we just head back home? There are plenty of coffee houses near us.”
We sat in Cafit, which was strewn with blue and white balloons.
People around us seemed festive enough, ordering whipped-cream topped coffees, and large chocolate cakes. And in a basket sleeping peacefully was a baby who was no doubt also celebrating her first Independence Day in the center of town.
And I thought, what will life be like for her, over the next sixty years?
I thought of the new little Hitler wannabes, heads of oppressive states that torture women and destroy human freedoms for all their citizens, building their atom bombs. I thought of the people who celebrate the murders and suicides of their children as if that were a great and holy accomplishment. I thought of the people- some of them Jews, even Israelis- who protest any attempt of Jews to protect themselves, whether it be a fence to prevent terrorists coming in, raids on terrorist strongholds, or a just war to stop missile attacks on shopping centers. I thought of the journalists and media pundits, who have lost all moral compass, and cannot tell the murderer from the victim.
The words of Dr. Eliezer Berkovits in his book Faith After the Holocaust ran through my mind: “This has been a moral and spiritual collapse the like of which the world has never witnessed before for contemptibility and inhumanity. Judged in the history of the am olam, we are confronting a morally and spiritually bankrupt civilization and religion.”
Truly, it was a difficult time to be human, and a Jew.
I looked at that baby, sleeping so peacefully, surrounded by blue and white balloons. I thought of how hard it would have been for Jews a little over sixty years ago to imagine this celebration. Could they have imagined the utter defeat of the most powerful and bestial juggernaut in the history of humankind bent on degrading and then annihilating not only Jewish bodies, but the Jewish religion, culture, history and spirit? Could they have envisioned the ingathering of exiles, millions of Jewish refugees from Europe and Arab lands, deprived of everything – a million Gaza strips- pouring into a raw desert land whose lives would be nourished and who would flourish? Could they have dreamed of the transformation of a dusty, barren land into a fertile garden whose produce would fill not only our own markets, but many abroad? Could they have prophesized the creation of Jewish educational institutions, medical centers and research institutes that would produce discoveries and inventions that would better the lives of all mankind? Could they have seen in their fondest dreams the building of vibrant cities, lovely resorts, red-roofed suburbs, a young land filled with serious, dedicated youth, children who speak Hebrew and celebrate Jewish holidays, free and independent citizens of their own Jewish state housed in the land the Bible spoke of, the land G-d had promised Abraham?
We have seen these wonders. In our lifetimes, we have seen G-d’s face, His promise beginning to come true. In our lifetimes.
It is hard to imagine the 120th Anniversary. But I choose to have faith, that it too will be filled with rejoicing over miracles, things we could never have imagined. And that baby, who will by then be a grandmother like me, will also look back in joyous wonder.
When we got home, we heard it. It filled the apartment: sounds of rejoicing, singing, drums, the shout of joy rising up throughout the city. We couldn’t find it, but it was there, all around us. It had found us.