This week Israel is celebrating 73 years of independence. I find the concept of independence a bit strange, and even in a way an oxymoron, since the meaning attributed to the word is freedom, or being self-sufficient. The dictionary defines it as freedom from outside control or support. Yet the word itself shows what the situation really is. The country, and we the citizens, were and still are in-dependence for most aspects of our existence. Dependent on emotional and some monetary support from world Jewry. Dependent on trade pacts with world nations. Dependent on world opinion and military aid, and dependent on the willingness of citizens to sacrifice themselves in order to survive. Ever since the establishment of Israel, the citizens of the country have had to fight for existence, and have paid with their lives. There is hardly a family that has not suffered the loss of one of its members, or of a member of the family next door. Most of the country’s citizens depend on each other for support as well as existence.
It is a natural state to be dependent when you are just born, and in fact for some time after. Like a newborn, a country needs to be supported and helped to establish a healthy existence. Connection is a basic need of humans, without which survival is not possible. We are indeed all dependent on each other, and the notion that we are free to lead a solitary existence, being independent, is but an illusion. Even if we climb to the top of a mountain and live a solitary life there, we are still dependent on the environment, and on the material goods we brought with us. To live a life of seclusion is a decision that is seen as beneficial to the loner, but harms the community. For society to run smoothly, members have to make their contributions. Loners negate this responsibility and run off to live in their bubble.
There are societies that revere individuals who go off to live a solitary life of meditation and spirituality. However, the irony is that the society is the one that supports that individual by bringing offerings of food, and building shelter – the result is a reclusive mini-society of monks, nuns, and disciples, that support each other, and are supported by the larger community. There is no escaping from the need for support and connection. Furthermore, living your life in seclusion can have a heavy effect on your mental health. People are social animals, wired to seek out company in their life. Having people work together makes it easier to solve problems of the entire group. Choosing a life of seclusion means that you have denied yourself the help that society could have offered.
Seclusion is not always by choice, and can bring with it loneliness. You start experiencing a feeling of abandonment which, if not checked, can lead to depression. People who lead solitary lives are more likely to fall victim to depression because they have nobody to share the burden of their issues. 2020, with the world pandemic of COVID-19, was a true experiment in what happens to people who have to stay isolated. Many older people were the first victims of isolation. However, all over the world, and from personal experience here in Israel, volunteers delivering food and medicine, as well as phone and social-media calls, alleviated some of the suffering. Municipalities, volunteer organizations and individual citizens were involved in finding ways to connect, to offer services, and to make sure people felt supported.
On the other hand, Maine poet and novelist May Sarton wrote: “For me the most interesting thing about a solitary life, and mine has been that for the last twenty years, is that it becomes increasingly rewarding. When I can wake up and watch the sun rise over the ocean, as I do most days, and know that I have an entire day ahead, uninterrupted, in which to write a few pages, take a walk with my dog, lie down in the afternoon for a long think (why does one think better in a horizontal position?), read and listen to music, I am flooded with happiness.” She totally ignores the fact that in order to lead that kind of life she had to generate some income and depend on society around her to provide the electricity, water, food, even the paper she writes on and the clothes she wears. A life of solitude does not mean independence.
How can a country be truly independent? Relying only on its own devices, the country as a whole can feel abandoned and go into a depression, and like some depressed people, actually commit suicide. To be alone, solitary in the world, is an impossibility today. There is interdependence in all walks of life, from food to clothing to research and manufacturing – there is no place today that is able to stay isolated. As an individual, I contribute professionally and socially to the community. And I am comforted time and again by friendships and by public concern shown to me as a survivor, as a member of the bereaved-family community in Israel, and as a member of my community. It involves give and take – as I stated before, we need to be connected, to support each other.
At the conclusion of the Independence Day celebrations, it is traditional to award the Israel Prize, the highest prize the country presents, to individuals who have contributed to Israeli society. The categories are from the fields of literature, science, public service, and more. At the opening of the ceremony tonight education minister Yoav Gallant said: “Instead of inciting dialogue, let’s have respectful dialogue, instead of sharpening tools that divide us, let’s empower unity and partnership – an essential need for a proper society and a basic condition for our ability to face external threats.” We need to respect each other, to support each other and to realize that dependence is not a state of weakness. In order to be independent, we need first of all to be able to depend on ourselves, and for others to be able to depend on us when they most need it. This is true independence. A 102 year old lighting the torch.