I have followed the progress of Israel since arriving in Palestine in 1938, escaping Hitler’s atrocities.
My father, Pinchas, owned a big electrical supply store in Vienna, but after the Nazis tried to arrest him for resisting the Anschluss, it was time to depart. What also fueled the decision was my mother’s hands getting badly burned when the Nazis didn’t give her any protection while forcing her to clean up graffiti using lye.
My father owned land in Palestine, so he had a passport and visa and was able to enter Palestine under the British mandate. My brother, Dov, had already been sent to Palestine to study. Eventually my father secured visas for my mother, Ella, and me and we arrived a few months later.
It was a far cry from our middle class life in Vienna. There I was, at the age of 8 in a new land, peddling vegetables out of a cart (pulled by a donkey!) to help my parents as they struggled to become farmers.
Now, at the age of 81, I have just visited the land again and witnessed the amazing transformation and development in this country (which is smaller than Rhode Island and has a population of about 7.3 million, about the same as the Bay Area).
One hundred years ago, the land was mostly empty desert, swamps and barren mountains. After a century of intensive scientific, cultural and industrial development, the country has been totally transformed and now has the highest per capita income in the Middle East. The level of concentration of high-tech industries rivals that of United States and many western European countries.
The fact that Israel has not only survived, but thrived while surrounded by neighbors who hate its existence and repeatedly engage in war or aggressive acts of terrorism is a miracle.
Many factors have contributed to Israel’s growth, but at least one of them has been its welcoming of immigrants from the four corners of the globe, in particular 1 million from Russia, and the melding of all those immigrant traditions into a unique society that values culture as well as economic and scientific progress.
Israel is a now a major exporter, using its high level of technological expertise in manufacturing diverse items, including sophisticated aeronautics (drones) that are used by the U.S. Air Force as well as by Russia, Turkey and other countries.
Recently, some enormous deposits of oil and gas were discovered in the center of the country and on the shores of the Mediterranean. These will help convert what was once an energy-starved land into a major international energy exporter. The development of sun and wind power is also progressing: Israel has one of the largest solar energy installations in the world. Additionally, Israel is constructing one of the largest desalination facilities in the world.
In contrast, just across the fortified border between Israel and the Gaza Strip is a population which must be fed by the charity of the World Food Organization, and which has been kept in poverty and ignorance for decades by its own leadership. It has leaders that prefer to focus the population on hatred for the Jewish state rather than on building an economic or political future.
This population has been armed to the teeth by Iran and other world terrorist organizations that have vowed to destroy Israel and its entire population by conventional or atomic weapons. In general, the hostility of the Arab world remains Israel’s biggest challenge.
Peaceful cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians offers the potential to create an area in the Middle East of unprecedented prosperity.
But the hostility constantly fomented by Iran and Hamas and others obviously prevents any such peaceful cooperation. What a tragedy. Thus far, all efforts of the United States and other countries to resolve the political and cultural clash between Israel and the Palestinians have failed. The goal of two states living side by side peacefully remains elusive. But efforts are continuing. May they result in the dream becoming reality.
Dr. Gideon Sorokin is a rabbi, lecturer and retired veterinarian who lives with his wife, Cherie, in Tiburon. His family left Vienna for pre-state Israel in 1938, where he lived and worked until his 1959 immigration to the United States.