On Sunday evening, I attended Caulfield Shule’s gala dinner at Crown to report on the celebration of their 75th anniversary, and Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel’s 71st birthday, writes Rebecca Davis.
A most civilised affair, men came in fine suits, and women in (black) dresses. They sipped their wine and sampled the offering of canapés while shmoozing to the smooth sound of live jazz.
We move into the Palladium. Speeches begin, courses are served.
In the break after the main, I leave my seat to mingle when I get talking to the keynote speaker, former federal Liberal leader and director of the Australian War Memorial, Brendan Nelson.
“Of all the groups of people that form humankind, none, in my opinion have suffered more, nor given as much to the ennoblement of humanity as the Jewish community,” he says to me as he looks out from beneath a furrowed brow.
“But Israel represents essentially what is a hope and belief in all of us … It is a democracy in a region dominated by theocracies and autocracies, and shows resilience in the face of extraordinary adversity – born of course, out of the most heinous event in human history.”
As we speak, I feel my phone buzz between my hands.
We finish our conversation, when it immediately buzzes again, and lights up with a notification.
Buzz. Another notification.
It’s the Red Alert app – buzz – and each – buzz – is another – buzz – rocket attack on Israel.
I look down at the screen of my phone.
“Rockets attack: Ashkelon, Beer Ganim”.
“Rockets attack: Zikim, Carmia”.
“Rockets attack: Kerem Shalom”.
Over the following hour, my phone continues to buzz incessantly, at least 200 times.
There, against the grandeur of sparkling chandeliers and silk-covered chairs, the hum of enquiring waiters and polite conversations, rockets rain upon the very country for which we have gathered to celebrate. Again, a threat to our very existence.
The irony could not be more stark.
But then, the paradox of joy and sadness are often at the intersection of the Jewish experience.
At our weddings – our happiest time – we remember the destruction of the Temple.
Our history has taught us to “never again” get too comfortable, to always be ready for the next threat.
The recent words of Brendan Nelson echoed in my mind: “Israel shows resilience in the face of extraordinary adversity.”
Resilience indeed. As we know, over the last weekend alone, Israel was pelted with more than 600 rockets fired from Gaza. Images emerged on our social media feeds of maps of Israel besieged by little red dots indicating rocket attacks, film footage of Magen David Adom units racing down shrapnel-littered streets, photographs of angst-ridden Israelis filing into shelters, and the picture captured of a mother on the ground, laying atop her young daughter, shielding her with her own body.
Four Israelis were tragically killed, and over 130 were admitted to hospital. We remember those four lost before their time, alongside the 3146 other victims of terror, and 23,741 fallen soldiers which Israel has sacrificed in the name of her very existence. Our tears are barely dry for those commemorated at Yom Hazikaron ceremonies just two days ago.
But a stubborn and stiff-necked people remain. “Resilient”.
Because of hope. Hope has been as fundamental to our survival as our most sophisticated defence systems. So deeply is it engrained in our religious and national consciousness.
David Ben-Gurion once famously proclaimed: “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”
And realistically, we’ve had the odds stacked against us – always. From Babylon to Greece, Rome to Germany. In 1947, ’56, ’67, ’73, ’82, 2006 and all the conflicts, intifadas and operations in between and since.
But we are still here, thriving, and still clinging to our ancient laws and traditions; that in itself is nothing short of a miracle.
And we will continue to be here – despite rockets, or threats that attempt to erode from further afield: with antisemitic caricatures published in mainstream American press, or the sanctity of Shabbat prayer shattered by gunshots in Pittsburgh or Poway, or closer to home, with billboard images of Jewish politicians being daubed with swastikas, Hitler-esque moustaches and dollar signs.
But Am Yisrael Chai – the people of Israel live, and as long as we live, we will hope.
Because never have the words written by Naphtali Herz Imber in 1886 rung truer.
“As long as within our hearts,
The Jewish soul yearns
As long as forward to the East
To Zion, looks the eye –
Our hope is not yet lost,
It is 2000 years old.
To be a free people in our land
Eretz Tziyon v’Yerushalayim.”
Rebecca Davis is The AJN’s features editor.