Memories of Entebbe
by Jonathan Rosenblum
July 9, 1999
Twenty-five years is a long time. Yet in every life there are a handful of events that even with the passage of time remain emblazoned in one's mind as if they took place yesterday.
This Fourth of July conjures up one such set of memories. For Americans, 25 years ago was the the bicentennial celebration of the Declaration of Independence; for Israelis, the day of the Entebbe miracle. For me, it was a day that changed my life and the way I thought about myself as a Jew.
I was in Israel that summer studying Hebrew and taking a break between the completion of law school and the commencement of practice.
The days following the hijacking of the Air France airliner to Uganda were tension-filled for every Jew in Israel. More than a hundred captives were on board the plane commandeered by German and Palestinian terrorists. Ugandan strongman Idi Amin was both sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and known to be a brutal savage.
The only parallel I can recall to the sustained tension of those days was that experienced in the weeks leading up to the Six Day War. During those weeks, a radio was introduced for the first and last time into the sanctum of the Rosenblum family dining room so as not to miss one word of Abba Eban's glorious speeches at the UN.
Then, however, there had been something vicarious about my teenage identification with events in Israel. Now I was actually in Israel sharing the emotions, it seemed, of every person in the country.
A younger brother was then learning at Aish HaTorah in the Old City, and he and his fellow students beat a continuous path to the ongoing prayer vigils at the Kotel. In those days, everybody was going to the Kotel - religious and non-religious alike.
In the ulpan in which I was then studying, the incentive to learn Hebrew had never seemed so great. We too yearned to listen to the news updates every half an hour.
Our ulpan teachers regaled us with stories of Idi Amin's behavior during his time in Israel, but we all knew that there was nothing funny about what he or the Palestinian and German hijackers might do.
Awakening on July 4, my first thoughts were of meeting my brothers later in the day for the bicentennial celebrations at Bloomfield Stadium. As soon as I boarded the bus that morning, however, the bicentennial was quickly forgotten.
The air on the bus was electric. The radio was blaring, and everyone was simultaneously listening to the broadcast and talking to everybody else.
My Hebrew was not yet to the point of understanding the radio, and it took a moment or two before I realized that the impossible had occurred: The IDF had somehow rescued the captives from an airfield guarded by hostile forces thousands of kilometers away. Even those of us raised on Mission Impossible had never contemplated an attempted rescue.
Complete strangers were embracing on the bus. For once Jewish unity seemed like a reality, not a fundraiser's slogan. As I looked around the bus, one thought kept recurring: We are all Jews.
The obvious differences between us - language, skin color, personal and familial history - suddenly seemed unimportant.
How different, I thought, from my feelings on the New York City subway. On the subway, I never once said to myself: We are all Americans; we have something in common. Instead I was guiltily aware of all that divided me from most of my fellow passengers. I was whiter, better educated, richer.
Amidst the warm buzz on the Egged bus winding its way down the hill from East Talpiot, I began to wonder about the mysterious power of my Jewishness. What, in fact, was the nature of my connection to the strangers around me. I doubt the answer leapt into my head on the bus ride itself.
But as I wrestled with the puzzle of my closeness to my fellow passengers, it dawned on me that we really did share something in common.
We were each the product of an unbroken chain of ancestors every one of whom had chosen their Judaism over every blandishment that the surrounding society could hold out to them - and despite every torture and affliction with which they and their children were constantly threatened.
I began to wonder about the power that made it possible for Jews, both great scholars and humble folk, over thousands of years, and in almost every place around the globe, to consistently make that choice. What belief gave them that strength? Could that belief become mine as well? Could I link myself to that chain of transmission?
Entebbe became for me one of those crucial moments of awakening as a Jew. .
While the first realization of the miracle of the Entebbe rescue will always rank as one of the happiest moments of my life, the memory today is a bittersweet one. For it always calls in its wake another question: Will we Jews in the land of Israel ever again experience the same feelings of unity that I felt on that bus twenty-five years ago?
Related Topics: Biographical - Jonathan Rosenblum
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free jewish media resources mailing list