The General Assembly of davka
Perhaps no other word encapsulates the Israeli psyche better than the word “davka,” rooted in Aramaic and Yiddish that points to the delicious sense of irony and inversion that has been woven into the fabric of Israel since its “against all the odds” founding in 1948.
Over two thousand representatives of Jewish Federations in North America are preparing to journey to Israel this week for The Israel at 75 General Assembly. They will display a deep commitment to and solidarity with Israel at a time when the country is riven by a deep political and philosophical divide over how the political different branches of the government should function. It might seem like the least opportune time to visit the Jewish state, but the two of us agree that there is no better word than “davka” to sum up our sacred mission, the feeling of being in exactly the right place at precisely the right time.
Perhaps no other word encapsulates the Israeli psyche better than the word “davka,” rooted in Aramaic and Yiddish that points to the delicious sense of irony and inversion that has been woven into the fabric of Israel since its “against all the odds” founding in 1948. Israelis love to explain to visiting English speakers that “davka,” often accompanied with an emphatic hand gesture and a look of sly satisfaction in one’s eyes, is impossible to translate, but it’s what you can say when something good — or even victorious — is happening that is the exact opposite of what one might have expected, and that one is savoring a sweet sense of accomplishment.
Yes, massive protests still roil the streets on a weekly basis. Israelis of different political beliefs disagree vociferously, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition is under tremendous pressure to make concessions or face the country being once again brought to a standstill if the ongoing negotiations do not bear fruit. Israel is in crisis, and most countries, like families, aren’t necessarily eager to showcase visitors their dysfunction.
Davka, this is exactly when Israel needs us — and wants us — most. Israelis know that the support of North American Jews for Israel is not dependent on the policies of any particular Israeli government. Yes, there are tensions right now between the leaders of our two countries that stem from the proposed judicial reform plan. But coming to Israel now does not mean showing support for that plan. Among our North American Jewish community, there is a wide range of political beliefs.
We are not coming to tell Israelis how to govern their country. Our job is to show how much we care about Israel remaining both a Jewish and a democratic state. How that happens is not up to us, although we have a tremendous stake in it both because Israel is at the wellspring of our Jewish identities and because we share a bedrock commitment as North Americans to freedom and justice.
We are coming to educate ourselves on the challenges, both external and internal, that face Israel, and how we can help to mitigate those challenges — and perhaps even help turn them into opportunities. We are coming to educate ourselves on what it means to be an Israeli in a still-young country of only nine million inhabitants that is one of the most technologically — sophisticated societies in the world — a global leader in agriculture and water management, digital communications, medical devices, defense, cybersecurity and so many exciting fields of innovation.
We are coming, above all, to show our support for this incredible, ongoing project — the most miraculous one in the four-thousand-year history of the Jewish people — and to keep building and strengthening the Jewish homeland. Our support and passion transcend any partisan political divide that could ever take place in Israel.
We will be in Israel as the country marks two foundational national holidays, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut. We will kick off the General Assembly by gathering on Sunday night in Tel Aviv with The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Hayesod and the World Zionist Organization to hear both President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Netanyahu speak. We will spend Monday exploring major issues facing Israel and the global Jewish community. On Monday night, we will travel to Latrun and join thousands of Masa participants to mark Yom HaZikaron, and then continue Tuesday commemorating and learning about Israel’s fallen in dozens of communities across the country.
And then we will usher in Yom HaAtzmaut on Tuesday night and Wednesday with joyous celebrations and barbeques, to be followed, just after the GA program ends, with a spectacular concert of Israeli music and dance in the amphitheater in Caesarea hosted by the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.
If you’ve ever seen the 1960 Hollywood film, Exodus, you may know that the theme song, “This Land is Mine,” written by Ernest Gold and Pat Boone, was called a “second Israeli national anthem.” “This Land is Mine” is deeply emotional — it speaks to a desire to sacrifice everything, if necessary, for the survival of the Jewish state. These feelings of tremendous pride, and profound, unambiguous love are what animate and invigorate us at this moment.
The Jewish people are the people of davka. No matter how seemingly insurmountable the challenge, we always shine through. These are difficult times, but Israel will survive as both a democracy and as a Jewish state. True friendship and commitment demand showing loyalty through thick and thin, as we say in a marriage ceremony.
We just finished reciting the Song of Songs at Passover, which is about the nature of love. We are wedded to Israel and Israel to us. And, although it may not seem like it, Israel is “davka beseder” — it’s ok. It’s as resilient as we are as a people, and we will do everything in our power on its 75th birthday to enable it to endure and thrive for far into the future.
Jeffrey Schoenfeld and Shawna Goodman Sone are co-chairs of the Israel at 75 General Assembly.