This Monday, we will commemorate Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. On Tuesday, we will celebrate Yom Ha’AtzMa’ut, the 69th anniversary of Israel’s independence. Over the coming months we will mark many important anniversaries in the story of the Jewish state: in June, the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War – that moment of existential threat to Israel’s survival, the unification of Jerusalem, with consequences and complications that continue to unfold; in August, the 120th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress; in November, the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and the 70th anniversary of the United Nations vote to partition the Palestine Mandate into two states, one Jewish and one Arab.
Among the actions taken by the First Zionist Congress was the adoption of Hatikvah (The Hope) as the anthem of the Zionist movement. Fittingly, Hatikvah became the national anthem of the nascent state, the embodiment of the hopes and longings of so many generations of Jews. In 2017, in what do we root our hopes for Israel’s future? For me, two sources immediately come to mind. First, I draw hope from my awareness of how very brief Israel’s story as a state has been, along with the realization that true nation building is a slow and arduous process, with so much potential still to be realized:
In the grand scheme of things, sixty-nine years is barely a moment in the life of a nation. We tend to forget that; living in the United States as we approach 250 years of our own independence. And for the Jewish people it is barely a blip in the heart-beat of a nation that spans over three millennia. Israel is just beginning its story as a modern state.
When we as Americans consider the project of building a constitutional liberal democracy, we return to our foundational language: “in order to form a more perfect union.” More being the essential term. Never perfect, always striving, even sometimes taking one step forward and one (or more) steps back along that journey.
For Israel as a still young nation, as for any nation, we consider both the journey and the destination. Israel’s destination remains rooted in the inspiring vision of its own declaration of independence. The words written in 1949 sing across the years with a vision and an aspiration for a state with full equality for all its inhabitants, safeguarding the holy places of all faiths, open as a refuge to Jews around the world. It is an Israel that extends a hand of peace to its neighbors and is prepared to join in common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East. It is a nation that invites the Jewish people around the world to join in the project of realizing our age old dreams.
And, second, I draw hope from the citizens of Israel who are living and building that vision every day:
I celebrate the people of Israel that I have – in my travels – come to know and to place my faith in. People like Sara Weill and Rabbi Betzalel Cohen who are working to create and advance a vision of Jerusalem’s future as a community of all its residents: Haredi and secular, Jewish and Arab, straight and LGBT. People like Dr. Dalia Fadila, dean of al-Qasemi College, who is investing in Israeli-Arab girls’ educational preparedness to succeed in a shared society.
I place my hope in women like Aliza Lavie and Rachel Azaria, both of whom came to prominence as social activists and visionaries of the future of the Orthodox community and who are rising to the national stage as members of the Knesset. And I place my hope in people like Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, a settler who is working with his Palestinian neighbors to foster a movement that builds understanding and respect for the lived experiences of both peoples and pursues a vision of peace for all.
Every day, these and so many other people across Israel, of all faiths and all communities, are striving to achieve a more perfect realization of the aspirations expressed sixty-nine years ago next week. I celebrate their nation’s independence and the journey we are on together. I invite you to join me in doing so.
p.s. For those in Boston, in the coming months there will be many opportunities to celebrate and to reflect, to honor the importance of these anniversaries and to consider the meaning of these events for us today. I encourage and invite you to participate in these activities, including this coming Wednesday when the JCC of Greater Boston and CJP’s CommUNITY Dialogue (of which JCRC is a partner) are sponsoring a discussion on Israel: 50 Years after the 1967 War including a lineup of incredible and diverse speakers.