Israel and the Palestinians are in what US Secretary of State John Kerry calls a “pause,” and it is anyone’s guess what the future holds. At the moment polls suggest that most Israelis and Palestinians are pessimistic that a two-states for two peoples agreement will come any time soon. Yet, history is witness to formerly bitter enemies making peace and even becoming allies (e.g. Germany and Japan with the United States; Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland with each other), so anything is possible.
I believe that eventually (hopefully, sooner rather than later) there will be a resolution to this historic conflict in two states for two peoples because the alternative is too awful for either side to bear.
This week Israelis honor the memories of their fallen soldiers on Yom HaZikaron. The next day the Jewish people celebrates Yom Ha-Atzmaoot, the sixty-sixth year of Israel’s independence.
This is a week to reflect and marvel at what the Jewish people has accomplished in our national home. Indeed, who could have imagined sixty-six years ago that Israel would become as economically viable, politically and militarily strong, technologically advanced, and creatively cutting-edge as it has?
Who would have dreamed that Israel’s Jewish population of six hundred thousand souls in 1948 would grow to have more than six million Jews along with one and a half million Israeli Arabs in 2014?
Who would have thought that after having had to fight seven wars, endure two Intifadas and bear-up against ongoing terrorist threats that the state of Israel would remain democratic, free and willing to help the people of other nations with humanitarian support whenever a crisis occurs, even the people of Syria, a nation at war with Israel, by setting up field hospitals in the Golan Heights to care for Syrian refugees fleeing their devastating civil war who are in dire need of medical attention?
Even with her imperfections, and even with a lack of resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians, we cannot forget that Israel is a singularly remarkable nation, testimony to the spirit, will, ingenuity, aspiration, creativity, humanity, and sacrifice of generations of its citizens.
Truth to tell, Israel is like no other nation in the world. It is more culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse, more intellectually and academically productive, and more dynamically Jewish than at any time in 3600 years of our people’s long history.
On the occasion of Israel’s sixty-sixth Independence Day, it is incumbent upon Jews the world-over to seize this opportunity to celebrate our nation-state’s accomplishments, mourn and honor her dead, and affirm the unique place Israel holds in the heart, mind and soul of the Jewish people.
This is no easy task, for Israel is more than the refuge envisioned by political Zionists, and it is more than the flowering of the Jewish spirit as contemplated by cultural Zionists.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:
“Israel reborn is an answer to the Lord of history who demands hope as well as action, who expects tenacity as well as imagination…The inspiration that goes out of Zion today is the repudiation of despair and the example of renewal.” (Israel – An Echo of Eternity, p. 118, 134)
Zionism sought to inspire the fashioning of a new kind of a Jew, at home in the land, self-activated and self-realized, independent, creative and free. Israel’s founders understood, however, that there are inherent limitations in their state-building endeavor.
“The State of Israel is not the fulfillment of the Messianic promise,” Heschel reminds us, “but it makes the Messianic promise plausible.” (Ibid. p. 223)
In other words, the political state is not and cannot be regarded as an end in itself. Rather, Israel represents a challenge and a promise that will rise or fall based on how our people and her government use the power that comes with national sovereignty.
On this sixty-sixth anniversary of her founding, I pray that Jews everywhere celebrate Yom Ha-Atzmaoot with enthusiasm, gratitude and pride with the words of the Psalmist on our lips:
“Zeh hayom asah Adonai nagilah v’nism’cha bo – This is the day God has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:24)