We Won’t Stop DancingBRENDA YABLON, cija.ca, Dec. 16, 2014The opinions expressed by contributors shared on The Exchange do not necessarily reflect the policies or the positions of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, its staff, and its board of directors.
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Sarona Park in central Tel Aviv. Founded as an agricultural settlement by German Templars in the late 1800s, it has recently been transformed by the City of Tel Aviv into a charming collection of gardens, shops and restaurants. My visit was prompted by the fact that the Tel Aviv Opera was performing in a free concert, as they will on every Saturday afternoon throughout the winter.
Hundreds of families meandered through the park, listening to operatic arias of Mozart, Puccini and Bizet, set up on four different sound stages. In another corner of the park a group was performing Israeli folk dances. The restaurant patios were all filled to capacity. The atmosphere was joyful and carefree, under a warm Mediterranean sun.
For the past four years I have been dividing my time between my home base in Vancouver and Tel Aviv. What began as a trip to get away from the rainy gray of the Vancouver winter has now become a yearly pattern. And, although I feel completely at home in Israel, I still have an outsider’s perspective. As I walked around Sarona I was struck by the warmth and ease of the people around me. This is the norm. Who would believe seeing this, I asked myself, that Israel is a country potentially in danger of being annihilated by neighbouring Arab countries? How can I explain to friends who think my visits to Israel are folly, on a par with treks to Iraq or Afghanistan? How do I make them understand that I actually feel safer here than I do in Canada even though in Israel the reality is that a bomb or a rocket could go off anywhere at any moment?
Sure, I take my cue from people around me who behave as if everything is fine and as it should be. And, indeed, for the most part it is. So how do the Israelis do it, I ask myself? I know it’s not denial, because it’s part of the reality of everyday life. Just about everyone has a child, grandchild, brother, sister, or spouse in the army. Soldiers in uniform are everywhere. There’s hardly a family in Israel that hasn’t lost someone in one of Israel’s numerous wars. How do they muster this passion for living – and maintain it?
Yesterday, as I was walking along the Tayelet, the promenade that runs along the seashore in Tel Aviv, I stopped in front of the Dolphinarium. It was a popular disco until June 1, 2001, when a Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up, killing 21 Israeli teenagers – most recent arrivals from the former Soviet Union – and injuring another 132. It still stands in its blackened, bombed-out shell. But in front of it is a coloured sculpture of a boy and a girl dancing. Above, in Russian and in Hebrew, are the words: “We won’t stop dancing.” It wasn’t just a commemorative piece of art; it was an affirmation of the desire to continue living, and not just surviving, but living fully and joyfully. It was a refusal to surrender to the forces of evil.
Ben Gurion famously said that “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.” The Hebrew word for ‘test’ is ‘nisayon’ the root of which is ‘nes,’ which means ‘miracle.’ To be tested and find the ability to transcend horrors, to affirm faith in survival, to continue to live life well and passionately – surely these are the miracles to which Ben Gurion referred.
And now, as we celebrate Chanukah, with each candle I light, I will think not only of the miracle of the oil lamp that burned for eight days but also of the ‘nes’ of the continuity of the Jewish people. We won’t stop dancing.
Am Yisrael Chai!
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