Israel will turn 70, and I’ll soon turn 65. Though I was not around to celebrate the joy of its founding, vivid childhood memories relate to Israel. Not surprisingly for a young American girl, these recollections are rooted in popular culture.
I was 8 years old when I saw the movie “Exodus.” I would understand the history in due time, but the dramatic and emotional intensity of the story made an immediate, profound impact. In the darkened movie theater, my 8-year-old self sensed that the desperation of Jews seeking refuge and a homeland could have been mine. I was spared their tragedies but shared their religion, their heritage, their souls.
One year after seeing “Exodus,” I was enrolled in Hebrew school. My teachers were concentration camp survivors. They taught us to read and sing prayers, but their very presence was the most powerful lesson of all. When they spoke of Israel, the Holocaust experience was palpable, and the need for a Jewish state unquestionable.
I return to popular culture for another vivid memory. In 1962 my parents took me to the Broadway musical “Milk and Honey.” They were excited to see Molly Picon, the great star of Yiddish theater. The backdrop of the story is Israeli Independence Day. My favorite moment is the song “Shalom.” A minor-key waltz (that European style Jews excelled at writing) forms the haunting melody, while the lyrics convey the many meanings of this one-word greeting: “It means a million lovely things, like peace be yours, welcome home.” Happy 70th, Israel, and may peace be yours.
(Jerry Herman wrote the music and lyrics for “Shalom,” and the excerpt I reference is this: “It means a million lovely things, like peace be yours, welcome home. And even when you say goodbye, if your voice has ‘I don’t want to go’ in it, say goodbye with a little ‘hello’ in it, and say goodbye with shalom.”)