Amichai Eliyahu

Herzl’s vision goes deeper than a safe haven

As Israel's Minister of Heritage, my sacred duty is to connect those detached from our people to our forefather, Abraham
Minister of Heritage Amichai Eliyahu arrives to a government meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, January 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Minister of Heritage Amichai Eliyahu arrives to a government meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, January 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The State of Israel currently finds itself in an unprecedented situation that calls for the re-evaluation of its path. The constitutive tale of a nation that survived the horrors of the Holocaust and solely wishes to find “a place among the nations,” as the title of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s book puts it, is clearly not sufficient for this generation.

If soldiers of IDF Special Forces units – soldiers who were carefully selected and who mostly come from upscale families who can easily afford to provide their children with an elite education – play the game of draft evasion, then the fear of the Holocaust has faded away. Memories of the concentration camps from not so long too ago should be serving as a red light to stop soldiers before they take their leave. Now, however, evidently nothing stands in the way of recklessly continuing along.

Middle East experts in Israel are reporting that Arab media outlets are broadcasting gleeful predictions of the Jewish state’s imminent downfall. But they underestimate our nation’s hidden power of growth.

We are now in need of a new story. A new story of the ancient kind.

The United States of America is preoccupied with financial issues and does not face any existential threats. It, therefore, has the luxury to settle for a tale that describes the dreams of hundreds of millions of people seeking happiness in the form of freedom and full equality.

When the subject matter is the welfare of individuals, that tale may be sufficient.

But the Jewish people have never been able to enjoy a peaceful existence. In order to provide the individual with a serene life, the nation as a whole is compelled to answer the underlying question of its identity. Jewish existence is constantly confronted by an enemy that asks it over and over again: Why be Jews, why are we a nation, and why do we need our own country?

In the years following the Holocaust, the answer was simple and obvious to the world, as Yad Vashem became a holy site for world leaders to visit and bemoan the atrocities against the Jewish People.

The Jewish-nationalist identity is not content with perfunctory Judaism any longer. If former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak admits to never having studied Torah, then lack of access is not the problem; it is the deep arrogance of people who think their teachings are greater than those of our forefathers. This shocking disconnect from our traditions has led Israeli society to perceive its material existence as the ultimate vision. Many members of Israeli society have become globalists, rendering this wonderous state of ours into merely one of several options, which, if it does not conform to their requirements, can be thoughtlessly turned to dust.

That is how Yair Lapid, who served as Israeli prime minister for a mere few months, effectively became the leader of the BDS movement, working tirelessly to get the world to boycott Israel and harm its economy.

The first thing that needs to be done is to restore our shared story. There is no need to reinvent anything, only to stand tall and proudly claim the story inherited from our forefathers.

There are those who believe our story began with the first settlers who courageously established the state. However, Theodor Herzl himself, three months prior to his death, wrote in a monthly publication geared towards Zionist youth: “I once called Zionism an infinite ideal. And I truly believe that even after establishing our land, the Land of Israel will not cease to be an ideal. Because Zionism in the way I understand it includes not only the striving for a piece of land as a debt to our unfortunate nation, but also the striving for a moral and spiritual wholeness.”

The aspiration to moral wholeness as a unique expression of the People of Israel cannot exist outside the context of its deep roots, connecting all of us as Jews to the fathers and mothers of our nation. It cannot exist without the realization that we are the descendants of a unique people that left the slavery of Egypt amid great and wondrous miracles, nor without the pride in our people and a deep feeling of connectedness to it.

As the Minister of Heritage, this is my sacred duty: connecting those who are almost completely detached from our people to our forefather Abraham, whose impact 4,000 years ago has a lasting effect on the whole of humanity until this very day.

About the Author
Rabbi Amichai Eliyahu is Israel's Minister of Heritage and a member of the Otzma Yehudit party.