I gradually came to discover there can be many sides even to one small country. Israel is as much symbolized by the mystical Mount Carmel as by the wind-swept shores of old Jaffa. It is as much incarnated in the narrow, buzzing with life, labyrinthine streets of the mythical city of Jerusalem, where Christian, Jewish and Muslim footsteps intertwine, as in the peaceful quietness of the holy groves of the Mount of Olives nearby. The epitome of modern Israel is not only the technological haven that Haifa has become, but also the sandy beaches and noisy bars of the young, vivacious metropolis of Tel Aviv.
Rarely has a country had so many faces, the clash of civilizations over the holiest of lands having also carved a good number of scars in the process. And yet, against such adversity, the Jews have survived.
In fact, Jews have always lived their life against the odds, positioned themselves against the grain. Being a nation of inventors, innovators, ground-breaking scientists and intellectuals comes as no surprise –what better foundation would there be than being a people who were forced to first imagine their own reality before they were able to create it? The eternal words of Thucydides, summarizing the success of Athenian leadership in ancient times, come to mind when considering the success of the Israeli state today- ‘always an innovator, quick to make a decision and quick to carry it out.’ Echoing Shimon Peres, the Jew will always say “Nice speech but what are you going to DO about it?”
It seems the century-old lessons received in the dark, noisy ghettos of Europe, the harrowing concentration camps of the Holocaust or even much later on that narrow strip of once-inhospitable land today called the State of Israel have never been lost.
A venerable old professor once half-jokingly shared with me the secret of his people’s resilience thus: when God had warned the Jews about the upcoming cataclysm, they were the only race who instead of praying for forgiveness became determined to learn to live under water. This story sums up well the history of the Jewish nation: adaptability begets resilience, resilience begets survival.
“Israel has thrived not despite its obstacles but because of them” Forbes magazine once pertinently put it. There can be no greater lesson for other nations than simply that.
(Shimon Peres as quoted in the book “Start-Up Nation-the story of Israel’s economic miracle” by Senor and Singer)