By Lior Olinik
How do you celebrate a country’s birthday?
How do you give your country a gift?
What kind of gift will you give your country?
What can you wish to your country?
A country’s birthday is a big deal! For me, my country’s birthday is the biggest deal. So I decided to give to my country what you would give to anyone with a birthday: a birthday card…
If you weren’t born I wouldn’t be alive, since my parents met each other only after they moved there from other countries.
You gave me so many other things besides, well, me. You gave me my friends. You introduced us when we were at school, when we were sitting in class and studying about your history while our teachers told us how important it is because we are your future. You were the first place where my friends and I went out by ourselves and learned the true meaning of independence.
You felt my heart beat fast when I was saying goodbye to my family as I was boarding the bus that took me to my first day in the Israeli army, to my first night sleeping away from my childhood home.
You gave me new friends in the army. These were friends who I spent sleepless nights with, friends with whom I trained with and learned how to save someone else’s life, no matter from what country they come from.
You introduced me to my commanders who I trusted to lead me – even with my eyes closed. These commanders taught me lessons that I couldn’t learn in any university in the world, not even in the university where I was studying, with its classrooms with views from the windows that could take your breath away, and make you feel alive at the same time.
You gave me other majestic views, with vibrant colors plucked from paintings: the white slopes of the Hermon Mountain; the green of the Golan Heights, the Galil, Gilboa and the Carmel; the yellow of the sunny beaches and the quiet desert; the blue of the pure Kineret, Dead Sea and Mediterranean Sea; the orange-pink of sunsets and sunrises; and the golden amber of my precious Jerusalem.
Even if I could never eat your delicacies again, I wouldn’t be able to forget the amazing tastes you’ve brought into being, tastes that came from other countries and came together in your kitchens. I think of the European schnitzel that met the African pita bread and found a new home in it – a pan-national delicacy born at your tables and food stands.
You gave me music in a language that was asleep for thousands of years, a rare language that few can speak. But it’s the only language that can make me laugh so hard, and cry so passionately, and be upset, and be proud.
Be proud even if there are still couple of things that I want from you, like being able to pray however I want, wherever I want, and with whomever I want. I know you are working on that and I’m here to help you help me.
I also want you to give me peace, peace with our neighbors and a peace of mind. Don’t give me those moments where I’m here in America and learn of terrible things that are happening and must frantically call everyone I care about to make sure that nothing has happened to them.
Give me peace for your own sake, for your skin not to be scarred and for your soil to be whole.
I’m a little bit ashamed for asking you these things after you already gave me so much, and I can only give you so little in return.
My love for you, this true love that I cannot explain in words, is what I can give you in return.
And what will I wish for you?
I wish for you to never stop growing old and getting smarter and more experienced. But also do not stop staying young, energetic, and vibrant. Don’t stop revealing to me the stories of my ancestors. But also do not stop being creative and innovative for the children of my future children. I wish for the people living among you to know how to take care of you, your borders, and also to take care of each other. I wish you would never stop bringing in new people. And I wish you never stop bringing yourself to the world.
I wish you’d never stop!
Happy birthday Israel,
I love you.
Lior Olinik is Camp Harlam’s year-round Shaliach (Emissary). He works at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, and will be the Carmel Unit Head this summer. Feel free to reach out to Lior at LO1@bethami.org to chat about Israel, Camp Harlam, or playing the guitar and eating schnitzel.