In 2014, I first wrote this article which was published with the title of “Dawn’s Child at Sixty-Six”. Our reconstituted homeland and I are now both seventy years old, although Israel is really centuries old. So, for the occasion of Israel’s 70th, this article has been updated.
When Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children was published in 1980, it struck a chord among those few people I knew who had been born in India. Many of them were my age so therefore they were truly born when India was born. They were midnight’s children, if not literally born at midnight, but within a year of the creation of this country that had suffered from British occupation and religious friction. The partition of India and Pakistan, separating Hindus and Muslims, was seemingly a way out of a future of violence. Pakistan is now a no-go zone for anyone not Muslim and India is thriving.
I was thirty-two years old and remember reading Rushdie’s book without making the obvious connection. As I was reading it, Israel was celebrating her thirty-second birthday. The epiphany hit me when I was sitting thinking about the book and realized that, although I was born and lived in the diaspora, my generation would be the first to live our whole lives with a Jewish homeland since the dispersion. And there have been many more Jews born since and will continue to be born in the future who will live their whole lives knowing that Jews are no longer homeless. What is done with this knowledge is still a question for diaspora Jews, some of whom have turned their backs on Judaism and Israel.
My father died when I was just shy of my fifteenth birthday, but once going home after Shabbat services when I was about ten or eleven, he told me he thought about Israel and wished he could go although he knew the site of the temple and the Kotel were not accessible to Jews. He died in December of 1962 and the first time I went to the Kotel, I thought of him and how that place, so close to where the temples stood, resonated through generations even when it might have seemed just a dream. It was also just a dream for our people for centuries that our Jewish homeland would be reconstituted into a thriving nation, now a nation of 7 million Jews.
In 2014, as I gathered the paperwork required for aliyah, my parents’ ketubah and my Hebrew birthday certificate reminded me that my parents lived in a way that straddled two worlds. Both were children of Russian immigrants during the great migration as the 20th century began. The United States must have seemed to be a great haven for their parents. They were Jews, but my parents believed that they were all-American. They were both born in New England, were life-long Red Sox fans, and never really spoke about their roots. Only recently have I learned about my father’s roots, thanks to cousins who are tracking our genealogy with some surprising results regarding our grandparents, my paternal grandparents.
There are things we do not know yet; our grandmother had one or two children with a different husband and we do not know yet who he was or what happened to him. What we do know is that our grandparents were married in Kishinev (then Russia, now Moldova) during the last week in March of 1903. The Kishinev pogrom, thought to be the first pogrom of the 20th century, started on Pesach, just a week after my grandparents wedding. There is a new book published (Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History by Steven Zipperstein) and others were published earlier, so here I will not list names and numbers, but know that it was a stunningly vicious action against a population that believed that their relations with their non-Jewish neighbors were good. Jews died looking at the faces of people with whom they interacted on a regular basis and with whom they believed to be on good terms. They were slaughtered by people who they knew well. Because they were Jews.
My grandparents survived and left for the United States not long after and lived full lives, gave birth to a large family, providing me with many aunts and uncles and cousins, each one of us a miracle of Jewish survival.
So now, at seventy, I am linking the chain of my father’s family back to where it started. My heart tells me that the chain could not end in New England. And I know it did not start in Russia. The dispersion of Jews around the globe took us to Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, Australia with dispersion throughout those places. Living in Jerusalem, I see the return from exile first hand. Whether from Yemen, India, China, Ethiopia, and now more from Europe escaping the hatred that has lived continuously for centuries, Jews are coming home. And I was just one of them, just one among millions who have come home reversing the Roman exile in full force. I look out of my window with our flag hanging and feel the whole range of emotions connected with home, heritage, and history.
As our reconstituted nation of Israel celebrates her 70th birthday, I think about my 70 years, a Jewish version of a midnight child, and remember that I was born a child of the dawn that was the re-birth of a homeland that had its real birth thousands of years ago with Avraham Aveinu in Hebron. It is said that when one reaches 70 years old, that a full life has occurred. I am not sure about my longevity, but I am sure that our miracle of a nation will endure. Happy birthday, Israel, and thank you for letting me complete the circle of my father’s family’s journey as Levites from the Roman dispersion to Russia to America and back home again.