Going strong at 70
Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) in 1949 was quite something. The state of Israel was one year old. So was baby Medina. Like the rest of an excited Jerusalem public, she cheered as the Israel Defense Forces marched until suddenly, the parade stopped in its tracks. Medina’s father was demanding a photo of the IDF with his baby daughter. The IDF obliged. The photo was taken. The celebrations continued. As a newspaper the next day remarked, a toddler in a stroller named Medina was already showing her love for Israel.
Medina’s passion for Israel was always on the cards. She was named Medina (which means State in Hebrew) to reflect her parent’s joy at the 1947 UN partition plan calling for an independent Jewish state. “I was always very connected to Israel, in part because of my name. Names are significant, they are the blood in your veins.” On Independence Days in the 1950s, she and other patriotically-named children would be invited to the President’s House. “About five girls called Medina would be there, along with lots of kids named Dror and Drora (freedom) or Yisrael and Yisraela.”
Medina the girl grew up alongside Medina the state and its leaders. “My father was involved with Mapai [Israel’s dominant political party in its early decades] and David Ben-Gurion. Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Navon would sit around our table talking politics, eating and laughing. Teddy Kollek [a long-time mayor of Jerusalem] used to say my grandmother’s apple strudel was like returning to Vienna.”
Her passion for the country has never wavered. “In Israel, you have a bit of everything. The Golan is like a miniature Switzerland. Tel Aviv reminds me of Miami. Jerusalem is a world of its own. But to live here you need to be meshuga (crazy). Its more comfortable in America or England or Australia. You need a good reason to be here. My family have lived in Israel for many generations but my connection goes back even further, to the Bible. I’m rooted here.”
As director of public relations and official delegations at Jerusalem’s David Citadel Hotel, Medina has shared her love of Israel with many overseas dignitaries, celebrities and groups. “I talked with Senator Barack Obama for a couple of hours about how ordinary Israelis view the Middle Eastern situation.” Then-Secretary of State John Kerry visited during an uneasy time in US-Israel relations. “He was all hugs and kisses. He used to say that I was the only person in Israel happy to see him.” Barbra Streisand offered her a job but Medina would not leave the state. “I only recently told my daughter about the offer. She thought I was crazy to turn it down.”
The job has its challenges. “I didn’t like Putin. He wouldn’t look me in the eye.” With all visitors, she tries to remain politically even-handed. “Some think I must be very right wing because of my name and love for the state. Others think I’m a leftie because I believe in tolerance.” She saw once again the impact of Jerusalem when she worked with a Chinese delegation. “I thought they might not be moved by the city because they were unconnected with the three religious of Jerusalem. But they were thrilled. They said there was something in the air. They’re right. There is.”
So what does Medina, whose life has run parallel with the life of the state, see as Israel’s greatest moments? “I feel most happy when the country is united. It might seem like we’re only unified during times of trouble and war but that’s not true. I remember the way people came together to help the new immigrants from Ethiopia in the 1990s.”
And what about the future? “I want to help Israel become better. It’s easy to talk about what separates us, as Jews and Muslims and Christians, but I like partnership and love.” We agree. May Medina the person and Medinat Yisrael, the state of Israel, enjoy an Independence Day of partnership and love.