Only In Israel

Maayan Jaffe

There is something about “Hatikvah.”

Every time I hear the Israeli national anthem, I get chills. Sometimes, tears. It is a short message, but one that gets to the heart of who we are as a Jewish people.

The lyrics: “As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart, with eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion, then our hope — the 2,000-year-old hope — will not be lost: to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”

I had the privilege of living in Israel for five-and-a-half years. I was married in Israel. My first child was born in Israel.

To me, Israel is not rockets. It’s not bus bombings, bomb shelters, rocks or shootings, although all of that happened when I was there and I had to write about it often, as a breaking news editor at The Jerusalem Post. Israel is about fresh schug, about the smell of the shuk on a Friday morning, about hearing Birkat HaKohanimthrough the windows of the Sephardi synagogue during a Shabbat morning walk, and about friendships — deep and holy friendships.

I remember the runs that I used to take on Sunday mornings through the Old City. In a matter of a couple of miles, in that crisp fall or muggy summer air, I could witness Armenian Christians shuffling to church, Jews shuckling at the Kotel and the hustle and bustle of the Arab shuk. It was intense, and it was beautiful.Intense is Israel. Because a day feels like a week. And because, at least among the Jewish population, everyone shares a common heritage and is, essentially, family.

When we lived there, we stayed at each other’s homes for Shabbat. We raised our children in a “village.” We were just as likely to watch someone honk and nearly run a passer-by off the crosswalk in a rush as we were to see that same person pull over, turn off his engine and help an elderly man cross the street.

I will never forget the day I tried desperately to parallel park on one of the many narrow alleys in Jerusalem. I pulled in. I pulled out. I pulled in. I pulled out. I just couldn’t get it right. Suddenly, there was a knock on my window.

“Get out of the car,” the man said.In any other country, I would have put my foot on the pedal and gunned it right out of there. But something told me to do what he said.

The man got in, adjusted the seat backward, turned the wheel and expertly positioned the vehicle in the parking spot. He got out, closed the door and handed me the keys.

“Yom na’eem,” he said — “Have a pleasant day.”

Only in Israel.

To me, hearing “Hatikvah” means a Jewish homeland, walking on the ground our oldest ancestors tread upon. Praying in the land closest to God’s heart. Living among a people to which I am deeply connected.

Obviously, I don’t live in Israel anymore, but I still believe in Zion. It is not a question of Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel),Medinat Yisrael (the state of Israel). It matters, but that is not for this column.

“Hatikvah” is just a statement of pride in the fact that we, the Jewish people, have made it for 65 years. And of a vision that we will continue to make it — forever.

Happy birthday, Israel!