Israel's 75 Years of Independence
Updated: Apr 26
Israel Update – Week of April 16, 2023
Israel at 75 years: On Wednesday, April 26, 2023, corresponding to the 5th day of Iyyar, 5783, the State of Israel will celebrate her 75th birthday. Pundits across the political spectrum have been having their say about Israel’s 75th for the better part of the last year. What could I possibly say that hasn’t been said already? The best I can do is to offer some insight from my own personal experience.
I spent much of last week on an airplane, flying to and from Australia via Dubai. On this particular trip, I noticed something I had not paid sufficient attention to in the past. Israelis exhibit certain customs on airplanes that are not shared by any other nation. Israelis on airplanes can be argumentative. Over the weekend, a United Airlines 787 heading from Newark to Tel Aviv with a full load of passengers had to return to Newark after an Israeli passenger was “arguing with the flight crew.” The airplane was halfway to Europe – three hours out – when the incident occurred. It was unfortunate.
I am referring to a different custom, a custom that never ceases to warm my heart. Israelis on an airliner are easy to pick out. They are the ones who rush to take their carry-on luggage out of the carry-on luggage bin the moment the pilot says, “We are beginning our initial descent…” They are also the ones that clap when the airplane lands. This custom is most evident on El Al flights, where the majority of passengers are typically Israeli and the entire aircraft seemingly erupts in applause. Israelis also clap on other airlines, but as their relative number is smaller, their clapping is less noticeable. On this trip, I noticed that when our Emirates flight from Tel Aviv touched down in Dubai, nobody clapped, whereas when our flight from Dubai touched down in Tel Aviv, our landing was greeted with a noisy round of applause (Friday morning flights from Dubai to Tel Aviv contain an extremely large number of Israelis; most working in defense). Why do Israelis clap only when they land in Israel? Further, I have never seen or heard of any Israelis clapping when a cruise ship docks in port in Haifa. Why is the clapping limited to air travel?
While these questions might sound overly Talmudic, I have given them a tremendous amount of thought, and I present my findings before you here. At first, I thought that it was as simple and as complex as there being something special about Israel. It is an emotional feeling when a person comes home. That sense of belonging, of finally getting there after a long flight, just translates into clapping. But if that were the case, the French would clap when an Air France flight lands in Paris, and Aussies would clap when a Qantas jet arrives in Sydney. As I stated above, this is simply not the case. My hypothesis is based on Jewish Law. Most rabbis rule that when a Jew flies a considerable distance, he must recite a blessing thanking G-d after he arrives at his destination. This blessing essentially thanks G-d for completing his journey safely. I have always had trouble with this ruling. Airline safety has been steadily increasing to the point that it is now safer to fly on an airliner than to drive a car or even a bike. Why should the rabbis institute a blessing after taking a flight and not institute the very same blessing for taking a car to the airport? This question was asked by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the greatest American rabbinical scholars. Rabbi Feinstein answers that flight is not natural. While flight can be explained by physics (actually, this is not at all trivial), humans do not belong in the air. If anything goes wrong, and granted this rarely happens, a person will pay dearly for leaving his natural environment. Surviving an extended period of time in an unnatural environment, teaches Rabbi Feinstein, is cause for thanks.
The modern State of Israel breaks a litany of laws of nature.
It is unnatural that a country should rematerialize two-thousand years after it was soundly destroyed. It is unnatural that the Hebrew language, not spoken in conversation over those two thousand years, has become its lingua franca. It is unnatural that a country should absorb five times its population in its first twenty years. It is unnatural that a country that is surrounded by enemies that seek her destruction has fought six wars with an undefeated record (Don’t listen to the naysayers – had Israel lost but one war, we would not be having this conversation). It is unnatural that a country with scant fresh water resources is now pumping desalinated water into the Sea of Galilee and selling it to her neighbors. It is unnatural that a country that for years imported coal from Europe and Africa to fuel her economy should discover nearly limitless supplies of natural gas deep beneath the sea and export that gas back to Europe. It is unnatural to be the only country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with positive population growth. It is unnatural to be the country with the highest number of unicorns (privately held companies worth $1 billion) per capita, nearly double the U.S. rate. It is unnatural, and yet it is happening on a daily basis.
In Israel, Independence Day is preceded by Memorial Day, leading to a sort of emotional whiplash. The message is that one day is impossible without the other. To this end, this week’s edition of Makor Rishon, a popular right-wing Israeli newspaper, contained an interview with Natan Meir, whose wife, Dafna, was brutally murdered in 2016 at her front door in the town of Otniel, near Hebron, by a Palestinian terrorist. Here is what he said about living in Israel: “I have the feeling that I have invested in a gold-chip country. It’s a high-risk environment, and I am always concerned about my investment. On the other hand, I continually find myself rubbing my eyes incredulously. How is it that I have a part in this miracle?”
Unnatural? Perhaps. Israeli? Most definitely. To Natan Meir and the rest of Israel, hats off to you. You are deserving of infinite applause.
Wishing you a quiet week,