I’m a Zionist.
I come from a family in which loving Israel was second nature. San Francisco is my lifelong home, and I truly love living here. But every time I’m in Israel my heart and soul are complete.
Israel long ago dug deep into my soul and consciousness. It captivates me. I’m captivated by the sights, sounds and smells. By the Tel Aviv beaches, ancient buildings and walkways of Jerusalem, the green fields in the north and the colorful sands of the south. Most of all, I’m captivated by the people.
The people make Israel so wonderful and challenging. And it’s the people that make it difficult to describe my feelings properly. The land is beautiful, mysterious and exciting, and I do feel an extremely strong connection to the history, our history. But it is the people who make the land so special. They have brought it to life, planted vineyards in the desert, opened fashionable restaurants on fashionable boulevards, built cities out of sand, grown forests where none existed, discovered critical breakthroughs in science, medicine, technology and agriculture, and fought to bring Jews from every corner of the world out of danger and to our promised land.
Israelis are the bravest, warmest, craziest, loudest, most argumentative, smartest, frustrating, best-looking and big-hearted people on this planet.
And those people strain, struggle and strive to make Israel a great nation. Is it perfect? Far from it. I often find myself hugging and wrestling with Israel at the same time, and sometimes I admit thinking it might be easier to walk away.
But I don’t, I can’t and I won’t.
Zionism is about the loving, passionate and determined building of a nation-state for the Jewish people, by the Jewish people, representing the values of the Jewish people. It’s a project. It’s a dream that can be willed, and I proudly stand shoulder-to-shoulder on this journey with those who pursue this dream with strength, vigor and remarkable perseverance.
Yes, Israel labors every day with the generations-old problem of coexisting with the Palestinians. But it’s also the country that brought us Menachem Begin, who made peace with his partner Anwar Sadat, and Yitzhak Rabin, who made peace with his partner, King Hussein.
Yes, Israel strains to provide equal opportunities for its Arab citizens. But it is also the only country in the Middle East that has full rights for religious minorities, where Arab Israelis have served on the Supreme Court and in all levels of business, government and even the military.
Yes, Israel suffers from an ongoing tug-of-war between the secular and the religious. But it’s also the only Middle Eastern country where the LGBTQ community lives out and proud, serves in the military and has one of the world’s most popular Pride Weeks.
Yes, Israel is under constant threat from its neighbors. But it is also the country that opened her hospitals for Syrians who need complicated medical aid, no questions asked.
Yes, Israel struggles because it is a country, not a utopia, a society not unlike the rest of the world, not some glorified beacon on the hill.
But with all its struggles, the Israeli people still smile, still shove you aside in “line” but invite you in for afternoon tea and cake, still argue with you regarding religious practices but insist you come over for a Shabbat meal. It is in that very struggle the Israeli personality shines. And it is also that very struggle that ultimately captivates me more than anything.
Just in case you can’t tell, I’m a proud and passionate Zionist.
Happy 70th anniversary, Israel. I love you.