Visit to Israel

            June 2012    
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Photo © Larry Chiger, May 2012


The Great "Aha Moment" in Israel

By © Larry Chiger, May 2012

Thirty years ago, shortly after my wife, Ivette, and I were married, we met a young Israeli man who'd just come to the US. He was here for 6 months to experience NYC, to perfect his English and to explore his chosen field of creative drama. Having just moved in together, and with a prized NYC apartment to sublet, we offered it to him. Within weeks our relationship blossomed from being landlord/tenant to that of close friends. Avishay quickly reached out to various Jewish organizations, seeking grant money to teach (of all things) puppetry to small children. While this seemed an unlikely career path to us, he persevered and developed his own opportunities. During his stay, which lengthened to a year, Avishay was awarded numerous commissions. He traveled throughout the tri-state area teaching children and building his skills as an educator, producer and theatrical director. Too soon, he returned to Israel, to put into practice what he had honed here in the states.

Last month, to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary, Ivette and I made good on a promise we'd made years ago, we went to Israel for the first time. Immediately we were swept up in the emotional immensity of this tiny country. Of course we were captivated by the remnants of its many ancient histories. We were moved to tears at Yad Vashem - especially as I realized that we were there on the anniversary of my father's birth. The physical beauty of the landscapes enthralled my eyes - from the arid vistas surrounding Masada to the fecund springtime forests surrounding Galilee. And we were fascinated by both the interplay and self-segregation of the numerous religious groups and cultures, all confined to a small geographic area.


Photo © Larry Chiger, May 2012

What impressed me most, though, came from the human element. Specifically it was the unmistakable optimism and joie de vie exuded by the many young Israelis we met. About halfway through our trip I realized there was a simple phrase that embodied their attitudes and mindset, "Why not?" As I gave it more thought, I realized that those words epitomized the zeitgeist of modern Israel. How else does one explain a population of Holocaust survivors who, in three generations time, turns a small patch of arid land into a lush food source for millions? How else does one comprehend the audacity to surmount the last vestiges of Imperial Britain and then turn back the combined armies of ones neighbors? How else do we understand that a patchwork of ancient cities and disparate tribal fiefdoms becomes congealed into one of the world's few true democracies. And how is it that this tiny country ,challenged from all sides, has become a major force for innovation in the high-tech, medical, agribusiness, defense and pharmaceutical fields?

Of course, there are two other words that symbolize the mindset of perhaps all Israeli Jews and their brethren around the world, "Never again!" Amazingly, though, that bedrock concept and its connection to the darkest and deadliest years in Jewish existence, is not what Israeli life is all about. A thriving country cannot evolve simply on the basis of existential defense. Indeed, one need only consider the numerous "Arab Spring" uprisings to recognize that despotic governance, propped up by corrupted military might and absent a moral core, eventually leads to catastrophic meltdown.

Surely the State of Israel suffers from self-inflicted wounds. Jews are not exempt from the peccadillos of failed character. Likewise, the Israeli political system is not infrequently hobbled by its accommodation of the needs of a disparate citizenry. Despite those very human shortcomings, it is a country the size of New Jersey that perseveres, indeed thrives, amidst continuing existential threat, the hatred of nearly all its neighbors, and the on-going denunciations of many of the world's countries. Is that not worth pondering? And are the answers we find not applicable to our daily lives?

The desires to create a better world (Tikun Olam) and to reach for lofty personal goals are concomitant. No one should accept that he or she cannot rise higher, or that the world cannot be healed, or that those two should ever be mutually exclusive. It is that simple. Regardless the individual challenges that we face, there is always a path to a better way. We only find that path, though, if we believe in ourselves, and in our abilities to serve our families, our communities and our world. Continually seeking that path, believing in that path, is the very essence of human progress, of fierce positivism.

How much better a planet this might be if the nations of the world saw and admired Israel as the positive example it is, rather than vilifying it for its determination to survive and thrive as the only Jewish state. What a loss for the Middle East that so many lives and so much national treasure is squandered on hating the Jews and trying to destroy Israel. One can only hope that with time the positivism of Israel will infect its neighbors, that those envious of her will eventually see that her democracy and culture and determination are gifts to be admired and received. Regardless that much of the world remains unseeing, those qualities and mindset came across to Ivette and me, over and again, as we daily interacted with Israelis of all ages and walks of life.


Photo © Larry Chiger, May 2012

Toward the end of our two weeks in Israel we visited with Avishay and his family. His home is filled with children and music and art. Avishay and his partner own a successful business headquartered in Tel Aviv. They conceive of and produce high-end media programs that emotionally connect with audiences in many languages. Their tools are a compelling blend of imagery, sound and spectacle. In a very real sense, it is puppetry and theatre raised to the highest digital levels. Their business takes then all over the globe and their customers are major international corporations. Avishay's story, just like that of modern day Israel, has a foundation best described in two words: "Why Not?" I returned to the States determined to incorporate that into my story as well.


from the June 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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