2017: A year like no other

Joshua Levi at Tuesday’s Beersheba commemorations.Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled

JOURNALISM is an interesting profession. One day you can be sitting in Parliament House interviewing the Prime Minister and the next you can be listening to a victim of child sexual abuse recounting their harrowing story. And somewhere in between, the focus shifts to kashrut, synagogues, school fees and a host of other topics that have a habit of popping up again and again.

But 2017 has been different.

I never would have imagined this would have been the year that I would stand on the tarmac when Benjamin Netanyahu became the first sitting Israeli Prime Minister to visit Australia and then, only months later, I’d find myself in Jerusalem and Beersheba with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and almost a dozen other federal MPs.

When Bibi came to Australia, as I told some friends at the time, I woke up at 5am to go to the airport and really didn’t expect to feel anything. I had convinced myself that I would witness a man walk off a plane and into a car … how exciting is that?

But even though that is exactly what he did, I was overcome with emotion and pride.

It’s hard to explain to people who aren’t Jewish, but watching an El Al plane touch down in Sydney and then seeing Bibi walk onto the tarmac was something I will never forget. He may not be everyone’s favourite politician, nonetheless the leader of the Jewish nation was in Australia and that was something to celebrate.

And the same happened this week … just. When I landed in Israel last Friday, Barnaby Joyce had just been kicked out of Parliament and Turnbull’s trip was hanging in the balance. But, as they say, better late than never and there was an air of excitement once he touched down at Ben Gurion Airport.

I’ve never lived in Israel, in fact I’ve hardly spent any time in the country, but this week it felt like the visiting Australian politicians were in my homeland and I was proud to watch them see the sights, walk through Yad Vashem and soak up Israeli culture.

It felt like some of Australia’s most important people were learning about my religion and my history. When we were in Yad Vashem, I spoke to several non-Jewish journalists on the trip, who were clearly moved by what they learned about the Shoah and spoke about how my grandfather escaped camps and survived in Hungary.

Then on Monday night, Turnbull and Bibi stood side-by-side as the Israeli army band played the Australian National Anthem and then Hatikvah. As one of the few people in the room that proudly sang both anthems, it was an amazing experience.

I couldn’t help but smile as they walked to the podium and then discussed the amazing relationship between the two countries.

Australia and Israel have a long history, but the relationship has never been better. For that we can thank the two Prime Ministers, Australia’s former ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma, the business leaders that see the value in the Start-Up Nation and the dozens of people that work behind the scenes each day.

For me, 2017 has been an honour and a privilege.

I will always remember it as the year that I was there.

When Bibi walked off the plane in Sydney, when Turnbull went to Beersheba and Jerusalem and, so that I’ll be welcome back in Sydney next week, of course the year that my fiancée agreed to marry me.

JOSHUA LEVI is deputy editor of The AJN.