A Letter from our Director of Israel Programs, on commemorating Yom HaZikaron and celebrating Yom Ha’Atzmaut

Yael Patir
on April 26, 2012

Dear Friends,

I write to you during the transitional hours between Memorial Day and Independence Day; this unique time encapsulates the State of Israel’s past, its present and its future. During these hours, strong emotions mix with heavy thoughts. Unlike any other time, the personal becomes inseparable from the national, proving the depth of the connection between the two. These hours become more difficult for me with every passing year.

I was eleven years old when a young soldier from the end of my street was killed in Lebanon. I never knew him. But I felt the atmosphere in our neighborhood change instantly. A cloud of trauma descended upon my street as funeral ads were placed on trees and bulletin boards across the street. The family suddenly had a constant stream of visitors; the gate to their home remained open, and the front light stayed on all the time. The following day, I told everyone at school that my neighbor, a brave soldier, was killed in Lebanon and that I was very sad. Retelling the story saddened me but also gave me a sense of belonging. I felt included in the unity that comes from a nation’s sacrifice for its homeland. Although I never knew the soldier, the closeness I felt to his family’s sorrow reaffirmed my 11-year-old right to live in Israel. I’m sure many feel this same way today.

Like everyone else, I attended the memorial ceremonies from an early age. As teenagers, my friends and I would spend the day going from the elementary school ceremony to the one at the high school to the Scouts, where we would sit in the grass with bereaved families and sing songs together. At every stop, there would be a memorial wall and a list of names we’d come to know by heart. Standing for the siren each year I’d imagine sad things, knowing full well that one day I wouldn’t need to imagine. One day I would know someone who was killed and I would think about him. Indeed, my list grew over the years. It filled with those who were killed during their army service, reserve duty, or were victims of terror. The pain became so vivid and personal, but it no longer strengthened my right to live in Israel; it became my call to action.

I still consider it a privilege to be part of this country. I do not want to leave anywhere else and I proudly celebrate Israel’s birthday each year. However, I also realize now that such a privilege should not be taken for granted. We must earn the privilege; we must fight for Israel – for our secure future, for the peace and prosperity our founders envisioned. We must have a stake in the fate of our country.

The mission of my parent’s generation was to protect Israel. They lived and worked frantically to develop the economy and to compensate for what their parents – survivors and refugees – could not attain. The mission of my generation is to protect the democratic nature of Israel, to shape policy and the economy in a way that will benefit all its citizens. We must build a system based in humanistic and pluralistic values and in celebration of Israel’s Jewish character. We must struggle against today’s stubborn yet volatile status quo.

During my time in the Air Force, I was taught of Operation Entebbe – a dangerous mission in a faraway airport, conceived with little intelligence, executed in spite of fuel problems and tricky landing conditions. Against all odds we succeeded! Operation Yonatan highlighted how far the IDF and the State of Israel would go to protect its civilians and the integrity of state. And now my generation, educated on such courageous stories, shall not be content to hear that change is no longer possible.

On Israel’s 64th birthday, the forces of change surround us. We do not have the privilege to throw our hands up in discouragement or the ability to turn the other cheek and ignore them. Instead, we must find and exploit opportunities for progress. Israel today is a strong source of pride and should aim for far-reaching political measures that will help stabilize its future.

Israel must work its hardest to achieve peace through the negotiated two-state solution. We should enlist the assistance of the global Jewish and international communities to solve seemingly permanent realities. There must be clear direction and a political program that addresses the unacceptable status quo. This is the order of the day. Any positive change in the country must include a separation from the territories, a Palestinian state and the establishment of peace with our neighbors.

This is why I joined J Street. The organization is confronting and challenging the status quo, working to end a conflict that threatens the security of our homeland and the authenticity of its democratic nature. I share J Street’s deep concern that the dream that is Israel – a society based on Jewish and democratic values – will disappear in a cloud of fear and trauma.

I’m proud to be part of the effort trying to persuade the American government to make promotion of a two-state solution a top priority. I am also happy to assist J Street in its efforts to broaden the conversation in the American Jewish community, allowing for more pluralistic and open conversation on Israel; a conversation that engages those who would otherwise turn away from Israel and those who are afraid to stand up for what is right.

Three months into the job, I know how much of an undertaking it was for Jeremy Ben-Ami and others to establish J Street and how important it is for us to make these hours between Memorial Day and Independence Day easier in the future. To make them into hours during of contemplation on a history of wars, a present of peace and a future of prosperity beyond our imagination.

Happy Independence Day.

Yael Patir