To the State of Israel and all its inhabitants,
Everyone says that you are a young country, but the truth is, that you are getting older, no offense. The elderly expect only one thing: maturity and wisdom. Our grandparents teach us the “alphabet” of life, based on their experience, none of us starts from zero. I learned about you in Italy. About Hertzel’s dream and the pioneers who left everything in order to come here. The more I learned, the more I was attracted to you, so in 2010 I decided to come here. I thought I knew a lot about you, but actually, I was just starting to get to know you. I was sitting on your knees, grandma Israel, when you told me about your sons and daughters, one day at a time. You had a story about each and everyone of them. You taught me about the different streams of Judaism. In Bnei Brak you showed me the difference between the various Orthodox groups, those who wear a black Kippah and those who wear a knitted one. You introduced me to the world of the different youth movements, and you brought secular people into my life, who taught me that it's totally possible to be a wonderful person without believing in God. You expanded my knowledge on Jewish philosophy while I discovered the treasures of religious traditions and secular Jewish thought. You helped me learn about the scars of the Holocaust that are hidden in the hearts of survivors and their sons, and you used the gramophone to play me the screaming songs of the Mizrahi, Ethiopian and Arab tunes merging in the streets of Jerusalem, where I was making my home. In the meantime, I became a priest of the Hebrew speaking Catholic community in Jerusalem. At my ordination, there were Rabbis, various Jewish and Christian communities, Immigrants from Asia and Africa, Arabs, Russians, people from every gender and sector. You continue to teach me how to break through another imaginary boundary, and understand that it is possible to be Christian and Israeli at the same time, because we are full participants in your life. We dance at your celebrations, and mourn your dead, we comfort you when your sons and daughters are getting killed, and we bring you grandchildren and great grandchildren in order to make you happy. Together with our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers, we want for your family to grow and prosper. We want to make you proud. Together with them, because it’s not possible without them, we want you to have a long life and that you will see goodness in Jerusalem. You are a beautiful kaleidoscope, Grandma Israel, do not give up any of your colors.
For your birthday, I want to ask you for a gift: release your children from fearing others. Help those who lead your people at this time, that there is no threat in diversity, but happiness. Help them to understand that one thousand children of immigrant parents who came from the Philippines, Eritrea and Sudan, do not endanger the Jewish character of Israel, but contribute to it. They all love you very much, they were born here and you mean the world to them. They are enthusiastic and filled with pride. They dream to serve and protect you as excellent soldiers, when they grow up, they want to make you even more beautiful and contribute from their talents. Let them succeed and do not set them up for a failure. Make sure they will be allowed to stay here. I hope you will grow up with grace. May you continue to inspire us with your wisdom. Hopefully all the fires will be extinguished, and we will be able to dance, together with you, and your entire family, hand in hand: “As they make music they will sing. All my fountains are in you.” (Psalm 87, 7)
Father Benedetto Francesco Di Bitonto leads the Hebrew Speaking Catholic community in Jerusalem.