My first job as TV reporter was in Orlando at the CBS affiliate back in the late 70s. The Pulse nightclub was the best place to dance in town and I used to drag my former boyfriend there…even though he hated dancing. It was a fun and safe time, and I was young and filled with excitement…like many of those whose lives were stolen.
Reflecting on this week’s event, I flashed back to being in NY two weeks ago to report from the annual Israel Day Parade for Jewish Life TV. More than 35,000 people proudly marched surrounded by thousands of enthusiastic parade goers. Given the precarious and increasingly hate-filled world we live in, I was a little anxious about possible violence at the parade in spite of a big police presence. And, with anti-semitism and pro-Palestinian campus activism growing, there’s reason to be concerned.
But, interviewing dozens of spectators and participants allayed my fears given their obvious passion and commitment to their Jewish heritage. The Israel Day Parade started in 1964 and this year celebrated the 68th anniversary of Israel’s birth…thanks to the passion and commitment of its founder, David Ben Gurion.
The small but mighty nation…the size of New Jersey with eight million people…certainly experiences its share of violence and intolerance in protecting its land and people, but it has very strict gun control laws. It is a privilege rather than a right in Israel to own a gun. I had the privilege of interviewing Ben-Gurion’s grandson, Alon, who lives in New York but considers Israel his real home. He shared with me how challenging it was for his grandfather to create the state of Israel in 1948. Alon also told me how proud his grandfather was to create the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The IDF is one of the country’s most respected institutions and influences its economy, culture and politics.
Every Jewish citizen over the age of 18 is required to serve in the military for at least two years and, for many, including Alon, it’s a badge of honor and reinforces a special bond among Israeli Jews. Alon introduced me to a 22-year-old New Yorker who went to Israel to join the IDF a few years ago. He told me the experience changed his life and increased his love of his Jewish American heritage. And there was the Holocaust survivor I met who survived Auschwitz after the rest of his family was murdered. Alone and living through that massacre, he felt he had to fight for Israel’s freedom 68 years ago. And, he’s so proud of what he accomplished.
At a time when it’s easy to be fearful and sad, the parade reinforced how we need to continue to live with passion. There are many examples of people everywhere who are standing up for freedom and leading a life of purpose, passion, and patriotism. That’s one of the important lessons David Ben-Gurion taught his grandson and it’s a comforting reminder during times like these.