Eva and George Varnai, my parents, reflect the 70 years of Israel since the day David Ben-Gurion announced our independence, rising from the ashes of the Holocaust.
Eva and George came to Israel in 1950 after numerous attempts to cross the border illegally from Hungary to Austria just before the Iron Curtain dropped. They were incarcerated but never lost hope to fulfill the yearning of every Zionist to build a new life in young Israel.
They came with few belongings after rejecting offers in Vienna from non-Zionist organizations to immigrate to the United States. With scant knowledge of Hebrew, they settled in Be’er Sheva. The seedlings my beloved father planted 67 years ago along the road to that southern city have grown to shed a comforting shade. Their neighbors spoke 70 dialects of Hebrew, all were poor, and all wanted to assimilate and succeed in life.
They prospered as the country did. Hungarian etiquette and culture ruled our daily lives, but Hebrew was spoken at home. My father had his share of wars and was wounded in the Sinai war in 1956. No one was happier than he when I graduated from the Israel Defense Forces’ officers academy as a first lieutenant. For him, I was epitomizing his success of becoming a full-fledged Israeli.
Until her death recently, my mother spoke Hebrew with a distinct Hungarian accent and loved every moment of her life in Israel. She enjoyed watching her family grow and her grandsons and granddaughters take their roles in determining Israel’s future.
In 70 short years, when much of that time could be described as upheaval, the trodden-upon Jews built homes for approximately 7 million Jews, schools, universities, government and scientific institutions, community centers, and public parks.
They developed vast and competent agriculture, industries and efficient welfare services and developed a new culture, Israeli culture. This is exported all over the world in various forms, including first-rate technology, films, sports, music and the arts.
I cross the city of Tel Aviv’s older sections to reach the cemetery where my parents are buried. I drive down Rothschild Boulevard, looking at the multitudes of high-tech entrepreneurs, huddling together, busy at their laptops in corner cafes.
We are still young. There is hope in the air and confidence in our future.
Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer is Israel’s consul general to the Southeast.