Promised Land or Ghetto?

In 1776, a group of visionary revolutionaries established a particular nation on the basis of universal principles. To a candid world, America’s founders declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Four-score and seven years later, when civil war belied the evidence of those truths, a hope-filled American President refused to accept the carnage as testament to their falsehood and chose instead to enjoin his nation to be dedicated to the proposition of their truth. In a speech of very few words, President Lincoln remade America into a Promised Land– setting forth for each subsequent generation of Americans the task of making evident the truth of her founding principles.

Three score and six years after her founding, in contemplating a Nation State Law which would encrypt the State of Israel with stateless sensibilities and an Anti-Infiltration Law which would criminalize strangers seeking asylum, Israel’s leaders appear determined to take the opposite course—inviting this Promised Land to revert to a fear-filled ghetto.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence was boldly aspirational. It insisted the Homeland of the Jewish people would “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all of its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex . . . guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture” and “safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions.” And just as four score and five years previously, in the midst of deadly conflict, President Lincoln had invited all Americans to be dedicated to the promise of America, so, too, Israel’s founders appealed “in the very midst of the onslaught” to the “Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”

Israel’s founders set out to build not only a Homeland for gathering in her long exiled people; but also a Promised Land worthy of her heritage. Israel would take the Jew who had been a stranger in strange lands and invite him and her to be citizens. In Hebrew, the word for citizen, ezrach, is a verb, and not a noun. It is a verb in the first person singular future tense; literally ezrach means “I will shine”. Israel’s Declaration of Independence announced to a less than candid world a 2000 year-old hope to return home had been achieved and invited all Israelis—Jewish and non-Jewish—to enlighten the world with a new hope. While Jews in strange lands had pined for a place called Zion, Israel’s founders invited Israeli ezrachim to relight the ancient Jewish promise of Xenia, the generosity toward the stranger.

Alas today’s proposed Nation-State and Anti-Infiltration laws reinforce Israel as a parochial Homeland for Jews and not a Promised Land for ezrachim, and threaten to extinguish the flame of hope meant to shine forth from this land.

Instead of a fearful Nation-State bill and a spiteful Anti-Infiltration Bill, Israel needs hope-filled Statesmen and Stateswomen who can speak to the generous spirit of all ezrachim of Israel. They might invoke the words of the same American President who spoke thus to his citizens: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

We live in a world where Israel’s promise of Xenia is in peril everywhere. We who for generations were strangers in strange lands, can and must pick up the torch of Israeli ezrachut, rededicate ourselves to that generous principle at home and be a beacon of hope for nations seeking common cause.

The upcoming elections offer Israeli ezrachim the opportunity to cast our light with our ballots.

About the Author
Sarah Kass is a mother of two daughters, a Yale graduate, a Rhodes Scholar, and a serial social entrepreneur. At 27 she founded the first charter public high school in the United States, and was recognized as one of America’s 10 most promising leaders under 30. Now over 30 and a resident of Jerusalem--the original "city on a hill"--she remains determined never to "underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world."
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