Zionism is about our right as a people to live on our ancestral soil. That is not a relationship established 125 years ago at the first Zionist congress or 75 years ago by any political figure. Instead, it was created for us, the Jewish People, when G-d said to Abraham, “go forward to a new land.” We are the only people on the planet to have a land as part of our existence.
We have fought, lost, gained, captured, built temples, and been evicted and exiled throughout a Diaspora. Yet, our yearning and connection to our ancestral soil have always been part of our existence and part of our soul. This Passover, like each one before it, we declare “next year in Jerusalem.”
In 1938 the British government condemned Nazi Germany for Kristallnacht, yet a year later, voted to limit Jewish emigration to then Palestine, knowing those who couldn’t get in would go to their deaths.
It was in 1939 that the MS St. Louis came to the shores of the United States. Yet, only five congressmen and senators gathered to ask for permission for them to disembark to freedom and they were tragically sent back to concentration camps, many to their deaths.
We needed an Israel then, and we need an Israel now.
In 1948 on a Friday afternoon, David Ben-Gurion signed the Declaration of Independence and the State of Israel was proclaimed for our Jewish people everywhere. After 2,000 long years, we formed a government—imperfect, for sure. However, considering that of all the people who signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence, only four had ever lived in a democracy, the historic event seems all the more miraculous.
So Israel’s founding figures pieced together a government as best they could, with the presence of every Arab army attacking them all while bringing in double the population over the next four years to live in Israel. Jews from Morocco, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, North Africa, and Europe came with nothing. Yet together, we built a nation.
From that moment until today, the elected government has had a difficult time, yet it has survived countless iterations. Despite all of the volatility, the one thing that remains clear is our ancestral soil in Israel remains our responsibility, opportunity and part of the fabric of who we are as a Jewish people.
And, it has been our strength.
We were the hidden Jews in America until 1967. It was only after the Six Day War victory that we, the Jewish people here in the United States, had breadth in our chest, stood tall, and proclaimed, “we are Jews, and we are proud.” Just look at how many JCCs, and congregations opened after that.
We also took on the powerful Soviet Union, and we would bring more freedom to the world than ever before as we Marched on Washington DC as part of the Great Soviet Jewry movement.
Israel has enabled our Jewish community to have strong organizations and institutions. The land and people of Israel give us strength, pride, and of course, headaches – as we give them. Yet, we need each other.
One hundred and twenty members of the Knesset, regardless of affiliation, will not define my relationship with the people in Sderot, the Arava, Akko, Kiryat Shmona, Be’er Sheva, and throughout the country. Israel’s government of today, and those that have come before it, are still figuring things out, achieving wins, and also making mistakes after only 75 years. Yet, every Israeli government knows that Diaspora Jewry is an important element of their existence as they are for ours.
Over 300,000 people have been protesting in Israel every weekend in recent weeks, which shows a true spirit of democracy and freedom not seen in many places in the world.
And while my words may not fully suffice the feelings of every single member of our diverse Jewish community, Jewish National Fund-USA continues to be a great tool for our Jewish people as we philanthropically invest billions of dollars in Israel’s North and South while serving as the largest provider of Zionist education in the U.S. However, we remain a non-political tool. Others are better situated for political messaging.
We will continue to stay out of the halls of the Knesset as we work with all of Israel’s residents in the Negev and Galilee for one simple reason. They are relying on us all regardless of the government of the day – and we are relying on them.
Next year in Jerusalem.