Still standing, still proud

Life in Israel is an emotional rollercoaster. When we’re up, we’re riding high with a clear view. But when we’re low, we seem to scrape the dirt.

Haim Gouri, the archetypical Israeli writer and fighter, once said, “We are a people of ups and downs, euphoria and pathos, pride and pique. Everything about us is drastic.”

Each year in the weeks surrounding Independence Day, Gouri’s words resonate. One of those “only in Israel” experiences is that incredible combination of sad and happy as the ceremonies for Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and terror victims fuse back-to-back with the Yom HaAtzmaut festivities (this year, on April 23).

The extremes are infectious: The world, it seems, either loves us or hates us, unfortunately too often the latter.

This year was not one of the easiest for this proud nation, but that doesn’t mean we have to abandon all reasons to be proud. A 59th birthday is an ambivalent occasion — still, it gives us a year to get into a suitable mood for our 60th.

What a difference a year makes: The day after Independence in May 2006, the 31st government of Israel was sworn in. New prime ministers are traditionally given a 100-day grace period. But Ehud Olmert, who’d already had his 100 days in office due to Ariel Sharon’s stroke, did not get even that.

Olmert might have thought his toughest challenge would be quieting the opposition and holding together his fragile coalition with Labor. Ultimately, it was the out-of-the-blue attack on northern Israel, for which he was so clearly unprepared, that rocked his political career and shook the country’s faith in the leadership.

The corruption scandals, sex scandals, the war, the Kassams, the kidnapped IDF soldiers, spreading poverty. This has not been Israel’s finest hour.

Ups and downs are to be expected on the political and establishment merry-go-round anywhere. But who would have thought that from one Independence Day to the next we would have a new IDF chief of staff, new police chief and the need for a stand-in president? Who would have imagined that the hottest name in politics and social affairs would be Arkadi Gaydamak, a Russian-speaking billionaire immigrant who helped look after the “refugees” from the war and planned a huge, free Independence Day bash? Who would have considered that Labor leader Amir Peretz, previously better known for fighting the security establishment for funds for a social agenda, would this year be the defense minister?

It seems almost natural this year to add the Shehechiyanu blessing, praising God “for keeping us alive, sustaining us and bringing us to this moment.”

For after all, we’ll still here, battle-scarred but not beaten.

Our very existence is worth mentioning as an achievement — if only for the pleasure of annoying our many enemies.

Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah threw some nasty surprises in the form of Katyushas; Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems set on dropping something even worse. But on April 24 there were parties, barbecues, nature trips and celebrations.

We’re on a rollercoaster, but the screams of fear are mixed with laughter. For the most part, we’re enjoying the ride.

People abroad often forget that most Israelis live ordinary lives worrying about ordinary things: family, health, finances. We argue about politics. And how. But it is a family argument.

Another year has gone by without our prayers for peace being answered. But despite the prayers of our enemies, we’re still here, not just surviving, but thriving.

That’s why this Independence Day, as every other, I hung the blue-and-white flag and raised a glass in that quintessential Jewish toast: “L’chaim — To life!”

Liat Collins is editor of the Jerusalem Post.