Earlier this month, I had the honor to usher in the start of the new school year for the students of Sderot in the presence of our nation’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In that moment, as I looked at the innocence of school children amidst the entourage of our country’s most protected leader, I breathed the deepest sigh of relief that I had allowed myself in nearly two months.
For in that scene I saw the very epitome of Israel’s existence – a bright and committed future combined with the strength and resilience that brought us to that place and time.
Let there be no doubt that the last several months of the lives of the residents of Sderot and the surrounding regions have been wholly defined by tension and uncertainty. I fully admit there were times when I feared I would never have the chance to breathe normally while watching schoolchildren head off to their classes.
The situation was so dire that even when we had the rare privilege of making it through the night without the interruption of sirens, we would always awake without knowing what the day would bring. The sounds of warfare were almost constant, and deprived us of all the normal joys that we so long for during the lazy months of summer.
Indeed, for the residents of southern Israel there was no summer of 2014.
Instead, this was the summer where the word tunnel became associated with intense fear.
This was the summer where we became experts in differentiating the sound of a rocket impact from one deflected by the Iron Dome.
This was the summer when we looked on from our homes and were able to see our soldiers advancing towards Gaza to protect our lives.
This was the summer of Tzuk Eitan, Protective Edge.
Sadly, we will never get this summer back. The pain and loss of July and August 2014 is likely to remain with us for the rest of our lives.
Yet now I feel that the State of Israel can and should take pride in its accomplishments. Indeed, my military and my government have taken the prudent steps to defend its citizens and for that they deserve our unmitigated gratitude.
Certainly there will remain debates over whether we won this war in the classic sense, and I know that the future is far from certain.
I also am fully aware of the fact that we cannot let down our guard. We in Sderot live under a constant threat that requires special defenses to remain prepared for any possibility. This will require the continued support of our government and our friends around the world.
The traumas of the last two months, and indeed the past 14 years, caused by the often incessant rocket attacks, cannot be healed with even the best intentioned agreement or policy paper. There is work to be done, businesses, homes, and lives to be rebuilt. We are committed to doing all that is possible to ensure our citizens’ safety and well-being.
And while I am forced to acknowledge that the future is uncertain, I also firmly believe that we deserve to hope. Even with the challenges and doubts that surround our current existence, we must recognize that our nation has given us the ability to believe that a safer tomorrow is possible.
So as I watched these children and looked upon my prime minister, I welcomed those dual emotions of optimism and strength represented in both. Because as intent as our enemies might be on our destruction, I am more convinced than ever that these are ideals of the modern State of Israel that will never be taken from us.
And with that conviction in mind and as we look ahead to the New Year, I know we can all be united in the prayer that it will be one of peace and security, not simply for the people of Sderot and Israel but indeed for all the Jewish people around the world.