Noa Gill is one of the shinshinim in Ottawa this year. Shinshinim are Israeli high school graduates who spend a year volunteering in Diaspora Jewish communities before returning home for their military service. Noa wrote this letter to her homeland, the Jewish homeland, last month on the occasion of Israel’s 70th Yom Ha’Atzmaut.
Dear State of Israel,
Like every birthday of a friend or a relative, and for your 70th birthday, I have decided that you deserve a real birthday greeting.
All these years I lived within you – a third generation Sabra. I spoke your language, Hebrew, from the moment I learned to speak. I had my most beautiful memories amongst your landscapes. I cried, and I was happy and excited by the sound of your songs. I was educated in the youth movement according to your values, and I ate your food, which like every mother’s food, is the most delicious food in the world. I never thought I had a special privilege to be your daughter, but like every child, who really appreciates their parents when they are young?
I came here to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, for a year of shnat shurut (volunteering). I delayed my life a year for the honour of serving you, to talk about you and to educate about you. A year in which my goal has been to bring together people – children in school, adults in the synagogue and kids at the summer camp – about you. One year that the most exciting thing I can be is “the girl from Israel” or “the one who knows Hebrew.” A year when I was asked to cook shakshuka, which I had never cooked before, just because I’m Israeli. When I had the mission to represent all the opinions of the entire State of Israel on political issues, to be a guide for people who want to visit Israel, and be proud of everything I am and everything you are as part of my identity: my language, my customs, my Israeli chutzpah, the music I hear, and in my various experiences of the holidays in Israel. This year you were not my far-away state-of-origin, you were the closest home that was possible.
I know it’s not always simple for all of us. We remembered this on Yom Hazikaron – Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen IDF soldiers – and we are reminded of it each day anew in the difficult reality we live in. But I and everyone else knows it’s worth it. That the complicated reality in which we live only makes us appreciate everything you are. Even if it is difficult, even if it is frightening, even if it is expensive – we know that we have no other country.
You are worth the struggle, worth the less-than-ideal realities and worth the difficult moments. In the 70 years of your existence, and with the hard work of the generations before me, you have developed into a country worth fighting for. The state that develops in all areas, the state in which brotherhood and friendship among its people will prevail, and the state that is our home. And whether we live in Israel or Canada, you are home for us. Home to return to when life is hard and you need a warm place and sustenance, or just when you miss it and feel a bit homesick. A home where we will always feel comfortable to be who we are, to wear our kippah and tefillin, to speak our language and dance our dances. A home filled with family that will be there for you no matter what. A home that is always in our hearts, wherever we go.
I want to wish you, my country, to just keep going like this. To be complicated and complex, but also the most basic and simple place you can be. To be developed and first in so many areas, and get better in new areas as well. To be good to your people but not make them take you for granted. Keep us real, but take care of yourself and us within you. Keep being so beautiful, so beautiful it hurts – from the snow on Mount Hermon to the coral reef in Eilat, a beauty you cannot stop missing. Continue to nurture differences, and also to bring the encounter closer.
I could not be more proud of you and everything you are. Proud to say “I am from Israel,” to speak Hebrew and stand tall when we sing “Hatikvah.” You are the strongest component of my identity and in everything I am. I am grateful for the person you made me be and am constantly trying to be a better person. May you continue to be so strong in our hearts: Happy 70th Birthday!