OpinionJewish & Israeli Holidays

On Independence Day, Israelis choose life

The fallen and the celebrants are proof of a nation that never gives up.

People celebrate Israel's 76th Independence Day at Saker Park in Jerusalem, May 14, 2024. Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
People celebrate Israel's 76th Independence Day at Saker Park in Jerusalem, May 14, 2024. Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Fiamma Nirenstein
Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies.

The people of Israel are different. Despite a terrible war, on Israel’s 76th birthday, nothing is clearer than the strength of its extraordinary young people. They should be admired by other young people the world over for their intensity, dedication, practicality, patriotism and love of life.

In Israel, even amongst the celebrations of independence, it is difficult to choose good humor, love and fun at this moment. There are the malign forces of feeling unsupported, discouragement and the sense of being surrounded by enemies and bullies.

But look at the photos of young Israelis, even those who have fallen in battle. They smile with a determination unknown to our times; the smile of someone who knows who they are and why they are here.

Over the centuries, the Jewish people have been forced to learn the difficult lesson of how to live despite and against; how never to give up; how to cultivate the tree of Jewish tradition and the Western civilization that Judaism created. The Jewish people have done so again after the tragedy they suffered on Oct. 7 and the months of war that followed.

It seems incomprehensible to many that, every year, Israelis move from the tears of its Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers to the celebrations of Independence Day within 24 hours.

Memorial Day is dedicated to the memory of loved ones—hundreds of whom have fallen since Oct. 7. But then Israel goes on, joining in the festivities that mark the birthday of their country.

This is all the more difficult this year under the shadow of the war, the 1,200 civilians slaughtered on Oct. 7 and the dozens of hostages still held by the inhuman Hamas. All the memorials and celebrations have a different tone and style than they had before.

Yet the fallen and the soldiers who have fought in their memories are a light to the world and to Israel at 76. They are epitomized by stories like that of the female soldier who was killed as she defended the border; the soldier who arrived spontaneously in a tank and killed dozens of terrorists while her children waited for her at home; the Druze paramedic who returned multiple times to the Nova music festival and brought the terrified to safety; or the quiet and decisive strength of the girl who saw her father and mother killed by terrorists and just a few days later lost her brother in combat. She is alone now, but strong and determined to live.

So is Israel itself. Amid war, a startup called Salignostics developed a pregnancy test using saliva. The National Library in Jerusalem organizes wonderful activities. The soldiers study with their machine guns on their shoulders. A restaurant near the Gaza border feeds soldiers for free. The commander of the Caracal unit saves a seriously wounded soldier and the doctor who greets her at the hospital happens to be her sister. Wounded soldiers ask, “Can I return to my unit?”

The radio warns that, if the siren that mourns for the fallen changes tone, one must run to the bomb shelter. But Israelis are all there anyway, singing the old songs with the children in white shirts, celebrating the Jews’ greatest victory: The rebirth of the Jewish state.

At 76, Israel still has to choose between its right to life and the world’s biased assessment of whether it is a nice guy. It must face the problem of global antisemitism. But despite all of this, it has already chosen democracy, human rights and life itself.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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