Israel at 75 years and me
In 2013, as a Christian, I wrote an opinion article in a Dutch newspaper about Israel at 65 years. Now, 10 years later, I write about Israel at 75 years at an Israeli news site. But this time as a Jew, living in Israel. What has changed between 2013 and 2023, for Israel and for me?
First of all, what has changed since 2013 for me? It is not the first time in this blog that I enlighten my path to Judaism. Earlier, I have explained that I had been attracted to Judaism since the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Subsequently, in 1980, on leave from the UN force UNIFIL in Lebanon, at my first trip to Israel, I experienced my visit to Kotel as a homecoming. However, it would take me nearly 40 years to become a Jew.
After finishing my military career in 2012, in 2014 I was appointed as a professor at an university in Kazakhstan. That was the turning point in my life. As a befriended rabbi told me later: “You thought you came to Kazakhstan to become a professor, but it was really to become a Jew!” There, I met a Russian-Kazakh boy, who, just like me, loved Israel and the Jews. In the moderate Muslim state of Kazakhstan, this Christian boy took me to a (Chabad) synagogue. Gradually, I visited the shul more and more. Subsequently, another Dutch rabbi, after learning about my frequent shul visits, pointed out to me that I was apparently converting to Judaism. After considering this for a couple of months, I came to the conclusion that the rabbi was right.
At the end of 2015, after returning to the Netherlands, I started my path to Judaism. I will not elaborate on the details, but I have certainly experienced the Jewish ‘custom’ of actively discouraging a person from converting to Judaism. Nevertheless, I knew there was no way back for me. After being turned down for starting the conversion (giyur) by the Dutch Chief Rabbinate, by the European Beit Din and by a giyur yeshiva in Jerusalem, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate too rejected me at my first request, but finally accepted me at my second attempt. At the end of 2018 I became a Jew.
As I have written before in this blog, living in Israel has not been easy for me. Instead of a nice welcome as a new immigrant, I was confronted by bureaucratic procedures and state institutions that are out on taking money from its citizens. Consequently, I have had moments that I considered to go back to Europe. However, I came here to become a Jew and lead a religious life. I have come to understand that on the one hand there is a secular Israel, with rigid state institutions, but on the other hand, there is the Land of Israel, as given by HaShem to the Jewish nation, with Kotel as the centre piece. Furthermore, the Gemara states that living Israel comes with difficulties. That I have certainly experienced. But since coming to Israel in 2017, I have been wholeheartedly welcomed in communities in Haifa, Bnei Brak and Jerusalem. And I am very fortunate of having many friends in these cities and elsewhere. Hence, I rejoice each day that I am a Jew and that I live in Israel. I know that I have reached my destination.
How does this life story – of my path to Judaism – relate to my article of 2013 in the Dutch newspaper, about Israel at 65 years? In that article I clarified that countries are usually referred to by their form of government, e.g., the Republic of France and the United Kingdom. I had always found it remarkable that Israel calls itself ‘The State of Israel’, not the Republic. I asserted that Israel is a republic by worldly standards, but from a Biblical perspective it is a kingdom. Namely, the Kingdom of God, over which the Messiah will rule. I clarified that this is probably why Israel refers to itself as ‘the State’, because in essence it knows that it is a kingdom awaiting. In 2013 I also stated that Jews and Christians are both awaiting the coming of the Messiah, the same Mashiach. That remark cost me heavy criticism from a prominent Dutch Christian theologian, not surprisingly, known for his anti-Jewish views. He called it a scandal that a Christian newspaper would publish such a heretic view. I was very happy with this criticism; it only reinforced my standpoint. Now, in 2023, as a Jew, I know that with the coming of the Mashiach of the Torah, the whole world – including the Christians – will recognize his authority. In retrospect, what I stated in 2013 on Judaism was clearly a first step of me becoming a Jew.
Secondly, what has changed between 2013 and 2023 for Israel? What did I mention on the political-security situation of Israel in 2013? I drew a gloomy picture of the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Egypt, Jordan in turmoil and civil war in Syria. Israel having waged wars against Hamas (Gaza) and Hezbollah (Lebanon), but the threat from these terrorist organizations remaining as great as ever. And Iran stating its intention to wipe Israel off the map. Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority fighting Israel with its then recently obtained observer status within the United Nations. And the European ‘friends’, more and more abandoning Israel and often siding with the Palestinians. Israel was becoming increasingly isolated. But that bleak conclusion was not the end of my story.
What happened to Israel between 2013 and 2023 in the realm of security? On first sight, not much for the better. In 2014 Israel fought a war against Hamas in Gaza. 2021 saw violent riots between Arabs and Jews in mixed cities in Israel. Since spring 2022 we have faced numerous terrorist attacks. Palestinian armed groups are getting more and more arms at their disposal. And with Pesach 2023, Israel has experienced Palestinian missile attacks from Gaza, South-Lebanon and Syria, with all these groupings supported by Iran. In addition to this, Israel is currently in a fierce internal-political fight, between proponents and opponents of a judicial overhaul. The internal political strife is clearly to the benefit of the Arab enemies, who perceive Israel as destroying itself from the inside. The combined missile attacks from three directions were clearly an example of our enemies exploiting Israel’s internal political weakness, assuming that this has also affected the combat readiness of the Israel Defence Forces. Given the current security developments, Israel has to prepare for a multifront war, externally from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, and internally from Samaria and Judea, and probably also by Arabs inside Israel. Obviously, the internal and external security situation of Israel has only become worse since 2013.
In my article of Israel at 65, I took the coming of the Mashiach as point of focus for now and the future. In doing so again, with Israel at 75, the current state of Israel – with its internal and external security threats – is not so gloomy at all, on the contrary. After the destruction of millions of Jews, the State of Israel arose in 1948. This fulfilled many prophecies from Tanach. Jews from all parts of the world have returned to the Land, as foretold by the prophets. From a military point of view, it was impossible that Israel gained victory in 1948, when attacked by several Arab states. Likewise, in 1973, when Israel was taken by surprise in the Yom Kippur War. Nevertheless, Israel survived and defeated its enemies, guarded by Divine Providence. The current internal and external security threats are just bumps of the moment. The outlook on the coming of the Mashiach gives us hope! As such, I congratulate Israel at 75 years and I hope to experience many more celebrations of it to come, as a proud Jew living in Israel!