By Harris Green
The State of Israel is celebrating its 70th birthday. Telfed is also in the midst of staging a series of events to commemorate it’s 70th anniversary.
To put things into perspective, I’m two years older than both of them and I consider myself privileged to be living my life in parallel to this remarkable chapter in Jewish history.
Without the State of Israel, my Zionist dream would have remained just that. Without Telfed’s helping hand and Israel’s remarkable immigrant absorption infrastructure, I could never have acclimatised to an environment so different to the one in which I was raised. I was given the tools at a crucial stage in my life to maximise the opportunities afforded to me to fulfill my Zionist dream.
As a youngster growing up Cape Town, I was burdened with my own identity issues. Was I South African Jew or was I Jewish South African? \South Africa was plagued with the injustices of Apartheid. Change was essential. I had a role to play. In its first 19 years — less than a generation after the Holocaust had claimed the lives of one third of our People — Israel had fought three major wars. Its future couldn’t be taken for granted. I had a role to play. These were the challenges I encountered. I had to step up to the plate. But which plate? I couldn’t be in two places at the same time. The Six Day War resolved my dilemma.
Phyllis and I made Aliyah 48 years ago. Our Aliyah was ideological. We immigrated to Israel. We never emigrated from South Africa. We came because we wanted to come, not because we had to leave. True, there were push factors but, for us, the pull factors clearly prevailed.
We were amongst the first in our family and circle of friends to leave the comforts and tranquility of Cape Town. Leaving our dear parents, our close-knit families and a large circle of friends was heart wrenching. I was 24. Phyllis was 21. We’d only been married 6 months. In many ways, it was the sort of gamble that younger, less mature people make without giving adequate consideration to the risks and consequences of their actions.
The past 48 years have been a riveting experience. We’ve had our ups and downs. We’ve experienced wars, intifadas and long periods of uncertainty.
For me, Israel’s greatest achievement has been her ability to successfully integrate Jews from more than 90 different countries and transform them into useful citizens. This intriguing cocktail with its different cultures, languages, customs and political traditions was, and remains, a formidable sociological challenge. The Hebrew language — indigenous to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel — was reborn. Nothing short of a miracle.
We’ve experienced enormous change in Israel. We waited eight years for our first telephone. Today, issues like this are resolved within hours. Service providers are infinitely more service orientated than they were 48 years ago. Israel’s sophisticated road and rail systems have shortened travel times while enhancing accessibility and road safety. The skylines of Israel’s cities have changed her horizons. Her water technologies have changed her landscapes. Her health system has advanced the life expectancy of her citizens.
Israel has a robust economy. Her military capabilities are formidable. They have to be. In this neighbourhood, you can’t survive without them. Israel merits its reputation of being the world’s Start-Up Nation. Her people are her most valuable resource. Israel’s technologies are innovative and game-changing. Her citizens enjoy a standard of living comparable with any Western country.
Like everything else in life, there are things that could and should have been done differently but our half-filled glass periodically overflows. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved in the short space of 70 years.
Whether we, personally, made a difference to Israel’s unqualified success is debatable but we feel we made a contribution, albeit small, to Tikkun Olam. I guess this sense of self-satisfaction is the most we could have realistically hoped for. We are indeed fortunate to be living our lives at this time in history. Mick Jagger couldn’t “get no satisfaction”. We did. We fulfilled our Zionist dream.