This past Tuesday Israel turned 66. When I think of the number 66, it is not as grand as last year’s 65, a nice big round anniversary. In fact the only thing I can think of when I think of the number 66 is the John Mayer song from the movie Cars, “Route 66.” Route 66 is that legendary highway which spreads all the way from Chicago to California. And that is what I thought about on Tuesday, when I thought of all of my friends and loved ones who love Israel just as much as I do. I thought of the future potential we have and the ability to spread the support, and joy, and advocacy for Israel across this entire country just like Route 66.
Yom Ha’atzmaut was a special day to celebrate the accomplishments of our young state in a mere 66 years. Besides for its hummus and falafel, our beloved country is known for being the only democracy in the Middle East. Renowned for its advances in technology, Israel has managed to be acknowledged globally. Israel is famous for the disk on key, the drip irrigation system, and many advances in medicine and medical technology. Even from the 65th to the 66th anniversary of the state we have made rapid progress. Intel is currently developing their greatest and latest computer chip in Israel. Whatsapp, an Israeli start-up, was bought by Facebook for a whopping 19 billion dollars in February. Waze, the Israeli navigation app, was bought by Google for 996 million dollars in June. 2014 looks promising with the expected release of many more medical technologies. Upcoming projects include oral insulin pills, and cartilage re-generators for knees as well as many more innovative ideas. Dan Senor and Saul Singer pose the following question in their 2009 book Start-up Nation: “How is it that Israel– a country of 7.1 million, only 60 years old, surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources– produces more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada and the UK?” And while they provide well thought and rational explanations through their book, we can acknowledge that we are truly blessed.

So we celebrated Independence Day, and not the kind with Will Smith and aliens. We recalled a time where Israel’s odds did not look too promising, and despite it all we pulled through. We commemorated our leaders. Standing at 4 foot 11 with tufts of white hair protruding from either side of his head, David Ben Gurion was not exactly the image of leadership one might imagine. And yet he managed along with the rest of the organized Yishuv, to win what looked to be a hopeless war. Together in unity, all the different facets of Zionism came together in that joint effort, Menachem Begin and his IZL and the Lechi group. Due to unity and great leadership, we prevailed!

We commemorated our heroes on Monday, Yom Hazikaron, both those did not live to see the independence, and those who were lost to us in later wars or attacks. We commemorated them, many of who were new immigrants, young, and with a heart full of zeal for Zionism and our homeland. Without their courage and strength, we could not have been successful. Our everyday Israeli man on the street, he is a hero for serving this country. Our typical Sabra, or Egged bus driver, he is a hero. I heard a joke about a rabbi who died and was waiting outside the gates of Heaven. He was waiting and waiting and it seemed like forever, but he did not mind too much because after all, he had forever. Gradually he became impatient. I mean, he was a great rabbi after all, why shouldn’t he be allowed to enter. All of a sudden, he heard great fanfare and trumpets. A large green Egged bus pulled up outside the gate beside him. Out stepped the stereotypical Israeli Egged bus driver, with garinim shells still clinging to his trousers. The gates of heaven graciously opened and he sauntered through. The gates shut behind him. The rabbi was outraged. “Excuse me!” he rapped on the window getting the gatekeeper’s attention. “Please explain to me why this bus driver, this Joe Shmo, got in without hesitation, and I, a respectable and influential rabbi, am kept waiting!” “Listen pal,” said the gatekeeper. “You ran a religious service where people came every morning. A few of them prayed. But most of them were daydreaming, spacing out, making mental lists in their heads, or staring at the pretty girl over the mechitzah… but when people got on that guy’s bus, you know EVERYONE was praying!”
And you know what? That Joe Shmo was most probably also once a hero, who put his life on the line for our country. We must remember that these are our heroes.

It is positively astonishing that such a young and tiny country has managed to become such a successful country. Throughout Jewish history, Jews have been persecuted, whether it was by the Greeks, the Romans, the Babylonians, the Spanish, the Crusaders, Khmelnitsky, or Hitler. Nevertheless, our small nation has proven strong and victorious time and time again. In modern times, this trend of persecution has not changed. But neither has our resilience. The Greeks have been replaced by the Egyptians, the Romans by Hamas. And like before, most of the world stands by idly. It is our mission to help our voices get heard, to raise awareness and support around the world. And it is our obligation to prepare the next generation of young leaders to do the same. As a country surrounded by hostile nations on all sides, it is a miracle that we are still in existence. Living in the highly turbulent Middle East, where chaos can erupt at any moment, every day of our survival is a gift and a miracle. It is our obligation to make sure that survival ensues. We take the existence of our country one year at a time. On Tuesday we made it to 66. But despite our enemies, we plan on making it forever!