For me, the most poignant event of this year’s Israel Independence Day was attending the memorial ceremony at my children’s religious grade school. Two of my sons, along with a large cast of other 10-12 years olds, told stories about brave Israeli soldiers who had fallen defending our cherished homeland, the greatest sacrifice and sanctification of G-d that a Jew can make. Others acted out the famous battle of Givat HaTachmoshet, one of the decisive battles of the Six Day War. After the profoundly moving two-minute long siren that is sounded all over the country, the children paraded with Israeli flags around the auditorium in tune to the rousing Israeli melodies of the school band.
“Thank you, G-d,” I said quietly.
“Thank you for taking me out of America. Thank you for erasing all of the American garbage and tapes and TV shows in my head. Thank you for making me realize that George Washington isn’t my real forefather, and that the Boston Tea Party has nothing to do with my past."
"Thank you G-d for rescuing me from a false identity and a foreign land. Thank you G-d for bringing me to the Land of the Jews and teaching me the true meaning of Torah, which isn’t just performing individual mitzvot, like kashrut and Shabbos, but helping to build the Jewish Nation in its Holy Land. Thank you G-d for giving me healthy, wonderful children who are all growing up as Jews through and through, celebrating Israel’s independence, and not someone else’s, and honoring Jewish soldiers who died in the realization of a 2000 year old dream and not cowboys, wrestlers, and movie stars.”
Only an immigrant who lives in Israel can appreciate the incredible difference between religious kids who grow up in Israel with their Diaspora counterparts. My children are a different species of child, a totally different breed. Sure they like candy and Coke and playing basketball like all children, but their heads are completely different.
The wars they learn about are Jewish wars. Their war heroes are Israeli. Their flag is the Star of David – not the Stars and Stripes of someone else’s country. Their songs of patriotism are Israeli. They celebrate Israel independence and not the Fourth of July. The history they learn is the history of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and King David, Rabbi Akiva and the Macabbees. Instead of growing up being American kids who are Jewish, they are Children of Israel, just as we are called in the Bible.
Say what you will, Jewish life in the Diaspora is like M&M’s, Jewish on the inside and sugar coated on the outside. For example, whether Jewish children in America be completely secular, reform, modern Orthodox, or Haredi, their souls may be Jewish but their heads are sugar coated with the gentile culture that surrounds them. They think like Americans, speak like Americans, act like Americans, dress like Americans, identify with America, like American things, think Washington DC is their capital, and celebrate the Fourth of July.
Here in Israel, I meet a lot of wonderful, young Jewish Americans who come for a year of study. No matter what religious group they belong to, or how many years they’ve been in yeshiva, their heads are 100% pasteurized, homogenized American. Religious-wise they are all good, well-meaning Jews, but their heads have been grafted with all of the history and folklore of America, from Betsy Ross to Sylvester Stallone and jokes about Obama. Who isn’t familiar with the silly giggles and loud juvenile chatter of American Jewish girls on Israeli buses? “Oh cool, oh colossal, oh Julie, what a freak out, hee hee hee!” While Israeli kids their age are going into the army or some other meaningful national service.
Thank G-d my kids are growing up in Israel. Thank G-d for opening my eyes that being Jewish means being absorbed in Jewish history, and celebrating Jewish independence, and living in the Jewish Land, and performing the mitzvot in the place they were meant to be performed, and actualizing the goal of our prayers by living a life of Torah in the Land which You gave to our Forefathers.
Thank you G-d that my children are growing up as Children of Israel, and not children of America or Australia or France. Thank you G-d that my children will marry Jews. Thank you G-d for enabling me to understand the amazing difference between being here in Israel, Your chosen Land, even with all of the challenges and difficulties, rather than living out an unreal Matrix identity in some gentile foreign land.
Thank you G-d for rescuing me from the Matrix and for bringing me home.