At My Most Zionist

by Brian on May 11, 2011

in In the News,Just For Fun,Politics

A Dry Bones aliyah cartoon from 1976 (more at

In our daughter’s 12th grade class on Monday, on the cusp between Memorial and Independence Days, her teacher asked something along the lines of “what was the most Zionist, nationalist moment, for you personally.” Merav was unsure how to answer. Many of her friends referred to their families’ aliyah.

“But I was just a baby then,” she said, and indeed she had been only a year old as she crawled her way through the oversized immigration processing hall, built to handle 2-3 planeloads of Russians all making aliyah at once, at the old Ben Gurion Airport.

I began to think how I would answer the question.Aliyah seems the logical response too – and we were old enough to appreciate what we’d done (as well as all the subsequent bureaucracy). But there are other answers I could give.

Getting my Israeli driver’s license and taking strange pride in my ability to successfully navigate Israeli traffic has definitely made me feel one with the nation.

Starting a company in 1998 and walking around the shell of our new investor-backed offices, I felt more than just an entrepreneur’s dream come true; I would soon be contributing to the Zionist enterprise by employing a staff of 15 fellow immigrants who might stay in the country due to the sweat and vision that had gone into the making of that day.

Another defining moment of Israeliness came from the tragic side. When our cousin Marla Bennett was killed in the terrorist attack on the Hebrew University cafeteria in 2002, we were thrust into the pan-Israeli world of mourners, and every year when Yom HaZicharon comes around, I feel just that much closer to my brethren.

But that’s not it either – because the terror war that killed Marla and 1,000 other Israelis in those horrible years made me just as inclined to consider fleeing to the “safety” of the old country than to stick it out here as a brave soldier in civilian clothes (obviously I didn’t flee as I’m writing here from Jerusalem).

When I started becoming non-religious at the beginning of 2000, after 25 years in the Orthodox world, I had to re-jigger my entire value system about why I was living in Israel. I found, to my delight, that it wasn’t the kosher food and the synagogue options that were keeping me here, but a deep Zionism and appreciation of the rhythm of life, the Jewish calendar, and the community that we’d built, religious or otherwise.

Travel abroad often makes the heart grow fonder, especially with the third world destinations we’ve been to recently – India, Egypt, Africa and now Nepal. Upon each of our returns, Israel seems so much saner, organized; even genteel. That feeling of coming home to our own country, warts and all, applauding when the plane touches down at the airport, always fills me with a quiet nationalistic fervor.

But by far my most Zionist moments have been our family hikes throughout Israel. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to any regular readers of This Normal Life: Aviv and I have chronicled all 12 tiyulim we did over the course of our youngest son’s bar mitzvah year (here’s the latest).

To walk the land is, in many ways, to make it your “own,” with clear Biblical roots, going all the way back to Joshua and the Israelites (although they didn’t just walk). Modern day hiking bumps into numerous archaeological sites, which add visceral detail to the history of the Jewish people in the Holy Land.

And Israelis are inculcated with a love of hiking from a very young age. Beginning in first grade, all Israeli school children head out for their tiyul shnati – the “annual trip.” The youngest just go for the day, but by high school, overnight hikes can stretch up to a week.

So, when I want to feel most Israeli, most Zionist, most connected to this country; and to imagine I not only immigrated in my thirties, but grew up in this land, I hit the trails.

That’s my answer, and I’m sticking to it. How about you? This is a great opportunity to contribute to this discussion by leaving your comments. I’d be very happy to hear.

This post was published on the Israelity blog yesterday on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

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