The Jewish people have had a long love affair with Israel.
It’s probably one of the most extended loves for a land and for a place bar our first peoples. It was there at our beginning, it has been there for us throughout the long ages in which we were exiled from it or made exiles and strangers in it. It has preoccupied our prayers, it has impassioned our poets, it has driven our dreams. It dominates the identity of any caring or thoughtful Jew today.
It was there at our beginnings as a people: the very first Jews, Abraham and Sarah are called to leave their comfortable Babylonian Villa and set off to this place of promise.
The very first words to Abraham in the 12th chapter of the book of Genesis are- “God said to Avraham go, leave your birthplace and home and set off for the place that I will show you.”
It is the place and destiny of hope for the newly freed Israelites as they depart from the land of the Nile and denial towards the land of their ancestors. It is the fulfilment and culmination of their exodus journey.
It is the country that Moses before his death is given just a poignant glimpse of.It fills his heart and his soul before he dies.
And it becomes the place that Jews yearn for and dream about in the centuries of their dispersion across the world. It also becomes for many the place they wish to return to even if only to be buried.
The ancient rabbis embodied the longing for Israel in all the basic prayers of the Jewish people. It is mentioned in the daily morning, afternoon and evening service –May our eyes be privileged to witness the return to Zion with joy and compassion. After every single meal the Grace contains the words: Rebuild the holy city of Jerusalem. The great writer, King David, made the longing for the land of Israel the central part of his many beautiful pieces in the book of Psalms. “May God bless you from Zion, may you gaze upon the goodness of Jerusalem, all the days of your life. And May you see children born to your children, peace upon Israel! ” (Psalm 128). As in these words the blessing of a good life is inextricably connected to the good land. Medieval scholar a Judah Ha Levi famously said -‘I may live in the West but my heart is always in the East’.Israel is the direction Jews orient themselves toward when they pray and when they dream of redemption.
Israel’s great contemporary poet, Yehuda Amichai wrote countless and often complex poems about his inimitable relationship with the land:
“ This is my homeland where I can dream without stumbling. Do bad deeds without being damned… Cry without shame, lie and betray without going to hell for it… This is the land we covered with field and forest… This is the land whose dead lie in the ground instead of coal and iron and gold: they are fuel for the coming of messiahs. And the door of my house stands open…”
As we celebrate Israel’s rebirth as modern state on Wednesday evening and Thursday (Yom Haatzmaut)we will reflect on our long relationship with this land. As in all affairs it is not always, as Amichai alludes, an easy one. As much as we love the other, we are at times frustrated by their viewpoints, attitudes or behaviours.
It’s no different when it comes to the relationship of Jewish people to the State of Israel. Almost all of us love it with a singular passion and then many of us struggle with it with a singular passion! Like any other country, Israel is not perfect;some of its policies are flawed, some of its actions are questionable, but nonetheless we recognise it as a place of strength and security for every single Jew and as a place of innovation and inspiration for so many people across the world.
Yom Haatzmaut Sameach!
Happy birthday Israel!