Today we celebrate Israel’s independence.
We celebrate 64 years not only of survival but triumph. It’s hard to believe looking at the vibrancy and vigour, the economic, cultural and religious successes of what has been achieved in, by the standards of Jewish history, the blink of an eye.
I want to offer a brief perspective and I look forward to returning to address the question of the place of Israel in our hearts this Shabbat and, particularly, next Shabbat when we have a very special guest speaker at New London.
Last week saw a ‘flytilla’ of demonstrators arrive in Israel. They were greeted, at the airport, with a letter on Israeli governmental headed paper.
“Dear activist,” the letter opened, “we appreciate your choosing to make Israel the object of your humanitarian concerns. We know there were many other worthy choices. You could have chosen to protest the Syrian regime's daily savagery against its own people, which has claimed thousands of lives. You could have chosen to protest the Iranian regime's brutal crackdown on dissent and support of terrorism throughout the world. You could have chosen to protest Hamas rule in Gaza, where terror organizations commit a double war crime by firing rockets at civilians and hiding behind civilians. But instead you chose to protest against Israel, the Middle East's sole democracy, where women are equal, the press criticizes the government, human rights organizations can operate freely, religious freedom is protected for all and minorities do not live in fear.”
A spiky response which has much to commend it, certainly when it comes to matters of proportion, context and the absolute horrors that have been perpetrated by Arab dictators on their own people in many a country and for many a decade. But it is not absolutely true. There are fearful minorities in Israel and embattled NGOs, religious practice is a broad term and some practices justified in the name of religion are proscribed – for both Jews and non-Jews. And there are particular problems surrounding equality for women as ultra-orthodox creep threatens the State’s pioneering support of women’s equality. I’ve no problem with a polemic response proclaiming Israel’s achievements when directed at those whose noses should be directed at other people’s business, but a more sophisticated response is needed for lovers of Israel for there is indeed still much to do.
Arnie Eisen, the 2010 Louis Jacobs Memorial speaker, cited ,in his Yom Hatzmaut message, some words of Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, writing about the Messiah.
“I say,” said Ben Gurion, “that the Messiah has not yet come. At the moment that he comes, he will cease to be Messiah. . . The Messianic era is more important than the Messiah, and the Jewish people lives in the Messianic era.”
Eisen’s point is that Israel is Messianic, redemptive, stunning, but it is not the end point – it’s not the Messiah. And if we were ever to suggest that Israel was the end point it would, by definition cease to be so. It’s our spiritual home in the process of being built. We should be proud, hugely proud, supportive and we should all roll up our sleeves to help with the work, now as much as ever. And we should know the work of building the Jewish home continues.
Happy birthday Israel.