Recalling my experience growing up with Israel
October 11, 2019
As I get deeper into my senior years, I find myself spending more time reflecting on my life, and trying to find meaning in what brought me to this moment of my existence. One of those reflections was remembering my first real connection with Israel.
I was only 4 years old in 1948 when the modern state of Israel was established. Although raised in a traditional Jewish home, my earliest Jewish memories consisted of Chanukah gelt, Purim costumes, Shabbat candles and the delicious smells of my Mom’s cooking throughout the year, but especially at holiday times. I remember accompanying my Dad to services, which afforded me more time to play outside the synagogue with the other kids.
My first significant connection to Israel occurred in this month of October 63 years ago, in 1956 when I was 12 years old. I became glued to the radio, listening to periodic news bulletins of Israeli, British and French paratroopers dropping from the sky to retake control of the Suez Canal after the Egyptian government nationalized this vital international waterway. The Egyptian government immediately restricted Israeli ships from using the canal, thus cutting the direct sea route between Europe and the southern Israeli port of Eilat.
By then I had spent several years in Hebrew school and had learned about the terrible tragedy that had befallen the Jews of Europe, and how helpless they were to resist the Nazi onslaught that resulted in the destruction of almost half the Jewish population in the world. At that early age one recurring frightful thought came to mind and has stayed with me my entire life: At the very moment of my birth in America, Jewish babies were being exterminated in Europe.
As I listened to the news bulletins with a mixture of fear, excitement and pride and then of the triumph of the Israeli military forces over Egypt, I knew then, even as a 12 year old, that Israel would be an important influence in my life.
In the summer of 1963, at the age of nineteen, I made my first trip to Israel. It was love at first sight. I became overwhelmed with emotion whenever I observed the Israeli flag fluttering in the wind over sovereign Jewish soil. I was sobered by the reality of the life and death struggle in which the people of Israel were engaged by the presence everywhere of army vehicles and armed soldiers, a sight I had never seen in the United States.
Since that time I have made many trips to Israel and watched its development and growth with the pride a father displays over the development and growth of his own children.
On that first trip, I was amazed to see millions of young saplings planted on every hillside, which over the years have grown into mature forests. I have seen the growth of the cities and the productivity and innovation of a people who rejected Holocaust victimhood in favor of embracing hope and optimism.
I marvel at a Jewish nation, despite being surrounded by enemies who would deny its existence, reaching out to less developed countries to help feed their population and teaching them innovative agricultural ways of increasing food crop production and water conservation.
Growing up with Israel made me realize many years ago, the immense privilege that providence had bestowed on me to be born in the generation in which the Jewish people realized their return to the Land of Israel; and the awesome responsibility it placed on me and all Jews to protect, defend and support the state of Israel, the ultimate defender of the Jewish people and Jewish interests throughout the world.
If you wish to comment or respond you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do so in a rational, thoughtful, respectful and civil manner.
Mel Pearlman holds B.S. & M.S. degrees in physics as well as a J.D. degree and initially came to Florida in 1966 to work on the Gemini and Apollo space programs. He has practiced law in Central Florida since 1972. He has served as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando; was a charter board member, first Vice President and pro-bono legal counsel of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida, as well as holding many other community leadership positions.