As we celebrate the 68th anniversary of the modern State of Israel, this day deserves to be recognized as a catalyst to celebrating our achievements as a nation while encouraging analysis of the challenges that we face as a country and a society.
I would even contend that it is because we are a people who recognize the need to face and overcome challenges that we have succeeded in achieving so much.
Israel, as a Jewish state, can never and must never rest on our past accomplishments. To create an even better state, we must always critically evaluate where we can become stronger.
It is therefore incumbent that we embrace the most important reality in celebrating this anniversary; that the Jewish state is the center of Jewish life today. Regardless of where we might live on the globe, not only do we pray towards Jerusalem but we should recognize that Israel’s growth and development is a source of pride that deserves to be celebrated by each and every Jew.
As I have written in the past and addressed to audiences all over the world, I acknowledge the challenges and obstacles that prevent aliyah in higher numbers. Yet, even if you cannot yet physically share in the modern miracle of 68 years of independence in a proud Jewish state, the very recognition that our fate is your fate and that the fate of Israel is the key to our nation’s existence must be at the center of every Jew’s identity.
To be a Jew in today’s world is to feel a sense of connection to our Jewish state and, even though you might not be here yet, you share that same destiny of both loss and achievement that defines our country.
But to share that experience also mandates that you recognize our challenges — both physical and social. As noted above, Israel at 68 is a nation with so much for which to be proud. Yet, we are also a land defined by conflict and tension. Not only conflict with our regional neighbors who remain committed to our destruction but also internal conflict over the path which our people and society should take. Over how Judaism should be practiced and who is entitled to practice it and dictate how it is practiced.
Here too, I firmly believe that we cannot go it alone.
Perhaps more so than ever, the linkages between the State of Israel and the Diaspora have become increasingly important and we need to find a way to enhance the conversation between our communities. Issues varying from how the sanctity of the Kotel must be preserved, to how the process of conversion is carried out have raised tensions which I am pained to see position Jew versus Jew in ways that truly threaten our national unity.
These are issues which call for solidarity and they demand conversation that spans well beyond our national borders.
And the responsibility to advance this conversation in a respectful and productive manner must go both ways. The government of Israel, our rabbinic and social leaders must engage the Diaspora because I believe there is no dividing our fates. An issue of importance to Jewish Israel must be important to the greater Jewish community.
And the Jewish Diaspora must similarly embrace the reality that your actions and opinions matter not just in New York, London, Sydney, Johannesburg, Moscow or wherever you find yourselves. We are not just one nation with one heart in a spiritual sense, but in the practical sense where our fates are defined not by geography but by a common sense of purpose and faith.
For these reasons, I believe it is with pride that we acknowledge that this year, Yom Haatzmaut should be both celebrated and commemorated with equal joy and awareness of the challenges — both here in Israel and all over the globe.