Israel at 70 - AJC eBook - Page 11

“After centuries of persecutions, pogroms, exiles, ghettos, pales of settlement, inquisitions, blood libels, forced conversions, discriminatory legislation, and immigration restrictions — and, no less, after centuries of prayers, dreams, and yearning — the Jews had come back home to be the masters of their own fate.” Not least, I can still remember, as if it were yesterday, my very first visit to Israel. It was in 1970, and I was not quite 21 years old. I didn’t know what to expect, but I recall being quite emotional from the moment I boarded the El Al plane to the very first glimpse of the Israeli coastline from the plane’s window. As I disembarked, I surprised myself by wanting to kiss the ground. In the ensuing weeks, I marveled at everything I saw. To me, it was as if every apartment building, factory, school, orange grove, and Egged bus was nothing less than a miracle. A state, a Jewish state, was unfolding before my very eyes. After centuries of persecutions, pogroms, exiles, ghettos, pales of settlement, inquisitions, blood libels, forced conversions, discriminatory legislation, and immigration restrictions — and, no less, after centuries of prayers, dreams, and yearning — the Jews had come back home to be the masters of their own fate. I was overwhelmed by the mix of people, backgrounds, languages, and lifestyles, and by the intensity of life itself. Everyone, it seemed, had a compelling story to tell. There were Holocaust survivors with harrowing tales of their years in the camps. There were Jews from Arab countries, whose stories of persecution in such countries as Iraq, Libya, and Syria were little known at the time. There were the first Jews arriving from the USSR seeking repatriation in the Jewish homeland. There were the sabras — native-born Israelis — many of whose families had 5