imagine a photo of a beautiful display of fireworks. shot from less than 50 meters away, they break up right above our heads and the ashes drop around us. the reds and greens light up the night sky with a magical luminance. can you see them? wow! a blue one! did you see it?
me neither. the moment the fireworks began tasha began trembling of fear. i had to hug and caress her instead of my camera. so, no fireworks.
i can show you tasha though…
israel today celebrates 59 years of independence! i want to share a letter written by dorit’s grandfather exactly 59 and 1/2 years ago;
Tel Aviv, Sunday, November 30, 1947
I feel the need to send you and all my friends in Italy greetings from Eretz Israel in this dawn of hope and festivity. My thoughts run back to the years past when we worked, struggled, hoped together; to the friends and leaders who guided us.
The Jewish State is not yet an accomplished fact; but when, last night, after so many hours of anxious anticipation, we heard on the radio the voices of the delegates pronouncing their vote at the Assembly of the United Nations and then the proclamation of the results, we felt that something great was taking place, even if surrounded by so much pettiness.
The streets filled with people, joyous and almost incredulous. Groups of young people were running, singing, embracing each other, dancing the hora in the streets and squares.
No! It won’t be easy now: fighting, difficulties and danger are not over. The task facing us, materially and spiritually, is enough to make one tremble. But at least for a moment let’s indulge ourselves and our children in the joy of the dream made reality, even if there’s a good share of illusion.
Yesterday we were all together at Mario Ottolenghi’s house to celebrate Michael’s Bar Mitzvah. There were so many old friends and this gathering reminded me of other similar gatherings at our homes in
Italy, in a time that seems so long ago. Our friend Gad, Giorgio Sarfatti, said some simple words about the text Michael had just read quite well and he finished up by hinting at the possibility of the imminent proclamation of a Jewish State, saying that we should accept it with joy as a gift from the Lord, even if we know this State will be quite different from what we would like. It’s up to us to take action so that reality isn’t too far from the ideal. But is a father prevented from rejoicing upon the birth of his son because he knows how difficult it will be to set him on the path to the Lord, and for fear that he won’t become a good and decent man? Therefore, let’s greet this birth with joy, but without ignoring the gravity of the task that awaits us and without trying to avoid it.
I’m picking up where I left off this morning. The city is celebrating, even if news has already spread of some incidents and victims. You can see a new happiness in everyone’s eyes; something singing in our hearts. Outside Eretz Israel it’s not possible to feel this simple and complete happiness that comes from feeling yourself in unison with everyone you meet. We should thank those whose call led us into Eretz Israel even for this day alone. Everyone you meet greets you with a smile containing an intimate, though wordless meaning; the clerk in the shop, or the cashier at the bank, they can’t help giving you the traditional message Mazal Tov, good luck! The milkman, when bringing us the milk this morning, greeted us the same way, adding that now it was up to us to show we were worthy of this State, and that it would be necessary to find the road to an accord with the Arabs. My thoughts were on this too, last night, on our neighbours who live a few meters from our houses. We’ll have to find the way to an agreement.
In the streets the schoolchildren are singing. Trucks decked with flags and overflowing with young people are circulating through the streets crowded with people. Bicycles are draped in white and blue; flags, large and small, are everywhere. Even these white cement cubes that are the houses of Tel Aviv seem beautiful today standing out in the cloudless sky, bright and clear, almost as if to form an immense white and blue flag.
Boys and girls are going around with blue boxes to collect offers for Keren Kayemeth. Suddenly, the memory pops up in my mind of a day long ago, much more than thirty years ago, when I was a boy of fifteen and went from house to house delivering the white and blue Keren Kayemeth brochure. All my old friends will surely remember that day. And today I felt like a boy again; full of vitality, joy, confidence, as is possible only at fifteen. And today everyone feels that way; full of a joy and confidence that is rarely seen in Israel.
In the street I met a friend who is particularly competent in financial and economic matters and known for his prudence. Mazal Tov! Mazal Tov! He said: “This country, believe me, can be the best in the world also from an economical point of view. It has all the ingredients to be so”. A little farther on a car passes me by, in the streets congested with cars and pedestrians. I see a white head stick out, a broad smile on an open and jovial face. And at the same time I feel some one pat me on the head and on the shoulder, as with a small boy. It’s Harzfeld,the head of the agricultural settlement council. I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve run into him, in nine years I’ve seen him five or six times; but it seems that he’s kept an incredibly vivid memory of our meeting in Italy, and of a trip we took with him and Enzo Sereni. “What are you doing? Are you working?” “Yes” “Why don’t we see you around? Come over to my place. I want to know what you’re up to”. Another pat on my shoulder and the car takes off, while Harzfeld throws himself back on the seat. And I walk away with an inexplicable lightness in my soul. In those few meaningless words, in that handshake, there was nothing; yet to me they seemed to have a deep value; who knows why? We felt united for a moment, and we needed to say so. Harzfeld planned and directed the building of dozens and dozens of new colonies; I did the same for a few houses. It seems that the humblest job, performed here, acquires a special value today, and even the fact alone of being here. Because all together, our force comes from this work and this presence. Not that they have a great value in themselves, but as the expression of a will and faith without which it would all be in vain.
If I had to say what is the characteristic that distinguishes today from all the other days I have lived up to now, I could not avoid thinking of this strange sense of lightness that I have never felt in any gathering of Jews. It’s the joy felt by children, self-confidence, confidence in help from above, the sense that everything will have to end up well (which is not a carefree unawareness of the dangers of the moment), they are the aspects of a youth that has not yet lost its enthusiasm, its unselfishness, its faith.
Israel is wonderfully young. So let’s not be afraid of the tasks ahead, but let’s not forget why they are so arduous.
I’m often reminded of Italy’s recent history, from the Risorgimento till today. The Italian people have many points in common with us, and from their history we too could learn something in the field of politics. If we aren’t blind we’ll be able to find the path to discipline and to union; but no sacrifice will serve if we are not faithful to the spirit of our tradition, the voice of our prophets.
Don’t ask me why I’ve written you. It was the fullness of my heart that wanted to find expression. It was the same mysterious force that today invited every one of us to smile to strangers as if to friends, great friends like brothers. Maybe tomorrow it will all be different. Today even Pacifici [cf. Introduction, note 3], if he had been here, would have said, as Rav Uziel suggested, the prayer Shehecheyanu, “who has brought us to reach this day”.
Love to you and all my friends,
Carlo Alberto Viterbo, lawyer from Florence, president of the Italian Zionist Federation (FSI) in 1921, then from 1931 to 1933 and then, after the war, together with the editorship of the weekly journal
Israel, until his death in 1974. In 1936, he led the first systematic exploration of the Falasha territory in
Ethiopia. Abraham Harzfeld, one of the main people in charge of the Agricultural Headquarters of the Histadruth. Meir Uziel, Sephardic Chief Rabbi in Palestine.
from A Dream To Reality, Letters to the Children in Combat, Israel 1947-1948, by Gualtiero Cividalli
Edited by Francesco Papafava