Famous photograph from the Six Day War in 1967: Soldiers at the Western Wall just moments after liberating Jerusalem from Jordanian troops

Famous photograph from the Six Day War in 1967: Soldiers at the Western Wall just moments after liberating the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordanian troops (Wikipedia)

Probably the most often asked question I receive in my work is: “Rabbi: Where are the miracles? The Bible is filled with miracles, Why doesn’t God perform them anymore? If God performed a miracle, Rabbi, then I’d believe and maybe I’d even follow in His ways.”

My answer is always the same: God does perform miracles, we just need to be able to see them. They may not be as obvious as the splitting of the Red Sea, but they’re still miracles…and if there was any event in contemporary times where God showed His hand in history, it was the creation of the State of Israel, celebrated just last week on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

There were so many miracles which occurred within the span of just a few months of the Jewish State’s formation.

Let’s go back to January 1948: The combined Arab armies of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon are poised on every border of Israel, ready to attack. David Ben Gurion is informed that the most that could be raised in the diaspora to equip the Haganah, the new and fledgling Jewish army, was maybe 5 million dollars. With that kind of money the Haganah could buy enough guns and ammunition to hold back the Palestinian Arabs but against the tanks, artillery, and aircraft of those 6 Arab armies, they would be useless.  Ben Gurion announced he would leave at once to plead the case of the Zionists to his Jewish brothers and sisters in America.  But Golda Meir felt he could not leave Israel. “What you are doing here I cannot do”, she told Ben Gurion.  “However what you propose to do in the United States I can do.  You stay here and let me go to the States to raise the money.”  Golda Meir flew to America and was scheduled to address a large gathering in Chicago of Jewish Federation leaders from 48 states. Many were wary of appeals from abroad – under pressure to fund their own local institutions, some were indifferent and some even hostile to the Zionist ideals.

Standing before this large group of mostly men, Golda Meir told the group:

You must believe me,” she said, “when I tell you that I have not come to the United States solely to prevent seven hundred thousand Jews from being wiped off the face of the earth. During these last years, the Jewish people have lost six million of their kind, and it would be presumptuous indeed of us to remind the Jews of the world that seven hundred thousand Jews are in danger. That is not the question. If, however, these seven hundred thousand Jews survive, then the Jews of the world will survive with them, and their freedom will be forever assured.” But if they did not, she said, “then there is little doubt that for centuries there will be no Jewish people, there will be no Jewish nation, and all our hopes will be smashed.”

 

In a few months, she told her audience, “a Jewish state will exist in Palestine. We shall fight for its birth. That is natural. We shall pay for it with our blood. That is normal. The best among us will fall, that is certain. But what is equally certain is that our morale will not waver no matter how numerous our invaders may be.”

 

Yet, she warned, those invaders would come with cannon and armor. Against those weapons “sooner or later our courage will have no meaning, for we will have ceased to exist,” she said.

 

She had come, she announced, to ask the Jews of America for twenty-five to thirty million dollars to buy the heavy arms they would need to face the invaders’ cannon. “My friends,” she said in making her plea, “we live in a very brief present. When I tell you we need this money immediately, it does not mean next month, or in two months. It means right now…”

“It is not to you,” she concluded, “to decide whether we shall continue our struggle or not. We shall fight. The Jewish community of Palestine will never hang out the white flag before the Mufti of Jerusalem… but you can decide one thing – whether the victory will be ours or the Mufti’s.” (O Jerusalem!, p.164)

A hush fell over the audience and for a moment Golda thought she had failed.

But a moment later, the entire room rose in a deafening applause. People started coming forward w/ pledges and by the time the afternoon was over she was able to telegraph Ben Gurion that she could raise the 25 million dollars they needed. The American Zionist leadership then set Golda off on a cross country tour and by the time she returned to Israel, the woman who had arrived in the US with 10 dollars in her pocket would leave with 50 million – twice the figure Ben Gurion had set as a goal, 3 times the oil revenues for Saudia Arabia of that year!

Waiting for her return in Israel at the airport was none other than Ben Gurion who said to Golda: “when history is written, it will be recorded that it was thanks to a Jewish women that the Jewish state was born”.

Another miracle which took place was the very declaration of the State: In 1917, the British announced the Balfour Declaration, the very first statement in modernity which set out the right of the Jews to a homeland in Israel.  This declaration, adopted by 52 governments at the League of Nations, happened not because of British good will, but by an absurd series of events.

A British Chemist by the name of Chaim Weitzman, developed a timing device for explosives that helped the British war effort in WWI. This achievement gave Weitzman the clout to petition the British government and dozens of others to recognize the historical significance of land of Israel to the Jewish people. And when the British turned their backs on this declaration, issuing the infamous White Paper which severely restricted emigration to Israel, a Jewish underground resistance movement arose, led by Menachem Begin and others. This ultimately drove out the British, making the Jews one of the only indigenous groups to kick the British out of one of their colonies.

What happened here in the United States was no less miraculous. The State Department was placing enormous pressure on then US President Harry Truman to vote against partition, saying that the Arab world’s anger would be directed against the US if they voted in in favor. The Jewish leadership therefore had to figure out a way to sway the president who was no lover of Jews himself. And remember, Jewish political power in the US back then was also nowhere near where it is today.

As I’m sure some of you know, the Zionist leadership called Eddie Jacobson, a simple haberdasher from Kansas City to call on his old friend and former business partner Harry Truman to get a meeting with Chaim Weitzman. At first Truman turned Eddie Jacobson down but Jacobson wouldn’t take no for an answer. He traveled to Washington, and made an impassioned plea.  He picked up a small statue of Andrew Jackson that was sitting on the President’s desk and he said: “Harry, all your life you have had a hero…Andrew Jackson. Harry I have a hero too, a man I have never met but who is, I think the greatest Jew who ever lived: Chaim Weitzman.  He is a very sick man, almost broken in health, but he traveled thousands of miles just to see you and plead the cause of my people”.

After a brief meeting with Weitzman, Truman did a 180 and voted in favor of partition becoming the first country to vote in favor of a Jewish State. Then another miracle took place. Joseph Stalin, who for years ruthlessly persecuted Jewish Zionists in Russia, voted in favor of a Jewish state which brought along with it the entire soviet bloc.  Rav Soloveitchick tz’l in his famous work on religious Zionism – Kol Dodi Dofeik, “behold my beloved is knocking,” wrote that these unlikely votes in the UN was one of God’s knocks on the doors of the Jewish people, one of the expressions of God’s miraculous hand in the creation of a Jewish State. (Listen to the complete recording of Ben Gurion’s reading of the Declaration of Independence HERE to get a feel for how miraculous this moment truly was.)

Another knock by Hashem on the Jewish people’s door was the miracle which took place on the battlefield. The Rav uses the Chanukah terminology of “Rabim beyad meatim,” that “the few defeated the many”.  That approximately 55,000 people, comprised largely of Holocaust survivors, somehow prevailed against the larger Arab armies equipped with tanks and planes.

And of course this wasn’t unique to milchemet hashichrur, to Israel ‘s war for Independence in 1948. 19 years later when those same Arab nations and more were poised on every Israeli border ready to attack and Israel somehow prevailed, we once gain witnessed a miracle in the Six Day War.

In 1973, when Egypt and Syria simultaneously attacked from both the north and south and a few Israeli tankers managed to hold off hundreds of Syrian tanks in the Golan Heights, that too was a miracle.

In 1976, when Israeli commandos freed hostages taken by German and Palestinian terrorists in Uganda that also could not be explained by Israel’s military prowess alone.

And I remember in 1991, when Iraq rained 39 scud missiles on Israeli population centers and not one Jew was killed directly, it also revealed some other force at work.

“The eye of God is on the land”- “from the beginning of the year till the end” (Devarim 11:12)

The Torah tells us that all year long, God keeps an eye out for Israel. Chazal speaks of the unique Hashgacha, the special Providence that God exercises over the land, and as a result, there will always be miracles in Israel.

There’s one last miracle that I want to share that I am personally privileged to see in my outreach work and that is the spiritual impact of Israel on those who come.

I have rarely met a Baal Teshuva for whom Israel did not play a major role in their spiritual development. There’s something about being in Israel which is simply transformative.

I’ll never forget a Sunday afternoon back in July of 2000 — 35 of us gathered at Kennedy airport for the first ever MJE Trip to Israel. One of the participants standing in the corner of the terminal was a guy in his 20’s with a large backpack swung across his shoulder. I went over to introduce myself.  He told me his name was Jonathan, that he had very little to do with Jewish life and that this was his first trip to Israel. Like most of the others on the trip, Jonathan didn’t know a soul but by the end trip, he told me he felt a deep connection not only with the other members of our group but with Israel and even with Judaism itself.

“A deep connection”, I thought to myself, really? From one week in Israel?

Even I was a little skeptical. But like so many others, when Jonathan returned to NY he started to come around more. He began to attend MJE classes, our Beginners service on Shabbat and very quickly became a part of the MJE community. About one year later he returned to Israel, this time to study, which he ended up doing for one year, and then another….until he eventually became quite learned and actually received smicha from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin.  In 2008, Jonathan made Aliyah and now lives with his wife Dena and their three beautiful children directing the Hillel Beit Midrash program at Hebrew University — reaching out to American students traveling to Israel for their first time just like he himself did back in 2000. Since that trip we’ve brought close to 500 more participants to Israel — all of whom have been powerfully impacted in so many ways.

An MJE participant connects to the holy site of Amuka on the MJE Edidin Heritage Trip to Israel in 2015

An MJE participant connects to the holy site of Amuka on the MJE Edidin Heritage Trip to Israel in 2015.

What’s the magic of Israel?

How can just one week in the holy land affect such a dramatic change in a person’s life?

There are many answers but the most important is authenticity. To most young Jews growing up in America, Judaism is something like a fairy tale. You hear these stories of this great and glorious past maybe at the Seder or in a sermon on the High Holidays, but its ancient history; it’s a relic of the past that has little or no relevance.

But that all changes when you come to Israel because when you’re in Israel you don’t hear about Judaism, you experience it. In Israel you don’t just read about Jewish history, you see it.

You travel, as we do each summer, through the Tunnel Tours – that connect us to thousands of years of our history and place us in the closet proximity to where the holy of holies once stood in the Temple.

You can climb Masada and feel connected to our ancestors who fought off the Romans with their last breathe.

We sit in Tzipori, at the very place where the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Court would sit.

You go on an archeological dig and uncover pottery dating back to Shlomo Hamelech. 

Our Tour guide walks around with a Tanach and shows the group where exactly Dovid is believed by archeologists to have lived.

We travel to Tzfat and pray in the synagogues of the very Sages and Kabbalists who composed the prayers we say every Friday night to bring in the Shabbos.

“Ano dome shemiyah l’reiyah”, you can’t compare hearing to seeing.

Seeing is believing, and that’s why Israel is indispensable to outreach.
Israel is the ultimate authentication of Judaism for the Diaspora Jew.
It provides some evidence for all those stories we listened to growing up,
all the “reasons” we were told to be Jewish.

When I asked Jonathan what hit him on the trip he said that for the first time he saw that Judaism wasn’t just a bunch of stories, that it was real. That our people, our land and our faith was a living and breathing reality and he wanted to be part of it.

And so as we pay tribute to our beloved Israel we need to recognize how she serves not only as a safe haven for Jews the world over but as a gateway to young Jews searching for a deeper connection to their roots and looking for some expression of God in this world.

Hashem does perform miracles. We just need to look a little eastward to see them.

Happy Belated 68th Birthday to our beloved Israel. May Hashem continue to bless you with success and security.