Fourteen years ago I sat on my grandmother’s lap as she recounted her story of traveling to Israel on a propeller plane. As a typical five-year-old, my attention was focused on the fact that my grandma flew, on her own, in a propeller plane. What I didn’t focus on was her destination and the significance of her trip. She made her journey in the early 1950s, just a few years after the founding of today’s Israel. David Ben-Gurion was still prime minister, the State of Israel had been formally declared to the world and the Jewish nation finally had a home to call our own.
The new home of the Jewish people was simple. Many of those in this newly declared country lived in collective agricultural communities called kibbutzim where they ate together, slept together, prayed together and worked together. Privacy was a commodity and luxury was unheard of. The land of Israel was barren and its natural resources were lacking. My grandmother’s trip was not one of vacation, but rather one of hope. Hope that this land would prosper for future generations of the Jewish people.
If my grandma were alive today, she’d be amazed at all that Israel has accomplished, and the progress it has made in its short 67-year history. Today, people travel to Israel and stay in globally recognized luxury hotels like the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem; the barren desert has bloomed into thriving orchards and vineyards, academic institutions and startups are booming. The Israel Defense Forces serve as a model for morality across the world, and the Knesset is the only true democratic institution in the Middle East.
Along with sharing her love for the State of Israel, my grandmother stressed how lucky I was to be born in the United States of America, a beacon of democracy in the modern age. My worries are different from those of my great-grandparents, who fled Lithuania during the Holocaust, and I can proudly walk the streets with my yarmulke because of the civil liberties granted to all American citizens by the Constitution.
Unfortunately, I find myself agreeing with the stigma and criticism that my generation has a privileged attitude. We have grown up in a society that has taught us to take things for granted. Besides forgetting to be thankful for things like clean water and clothing, Generation Y has forgotten to recognize the single entity that allows us to live the lives we have grown accustomed to: democracy.
I am a member of a generation who did not witness the fight for women’s suffrage, the Holocaust or the civil rights movement. Therefore, we must consciously remind ourselves and our friends of how lucky we are to live in the world’s greatest democracy. Just like my Israeli family, I proudly vote in each and every election. Whether it’s voting for the President of the United States or president of the local Parent-Teacher Association, I show up to the polls.
Celebration of and participation in our democracy are civic duties. On Independence Day, I celebrate America. I express my gratitude to this country for welcoming my family and saving us from the gas chambers. On Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, I celebrate the future of the Jewish nation. This year I decided to enlarge the size of my Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration by partnering with a talented Israeli photographer, Nechama Perton, to design an outdoor exhibit that showcases the beauty of the people and land of Israel. By sharing her incredible photographs with my campus, I hope to inspire others to take a moment to think about what democracy means to them.
I hope that by sharing these images and the stories behind them, I will inspire those in the Drexel community to not only feel a connection to the State of Israel and its people, but also to recognize the important bond our two nations share. Let us be grateful that as strong democracies rooted in justice and equality, we are intrinsically linked by the values we share and the freedoms our governments afford us. Let us not take any of it for granted.
Max Khan is a Graphic Design major at Drexel University. He can be contacted at [email protected].