Proud of Israel at 75
This month we will celebrate an important milestone in the history of the Jewish people: the 75th anniversary of the birth of the State of Israel. With so much attention focused on the political turmoil in Israel, we must not ignore the significance of this historic event. That’s why it’s important to take time to appreciate all that Israel has accomplished, and what it represents for the Jewish people. My personal experiences may help provide some perspective.
This year we will also mark another important date: the 50th anniversary of Israel’s 1973 Yom Kippur War.
On October 6th, 1973, I was a student on overseas study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It was Yom Kippur, and we were in our dormitories when at 2:00 PM in the afternoon, the air raid sirens went off. As we soon learned, Israel was under a simultaneous surprise attack from both Egypt and Syria.
After spending some time in a bomb shelter, we went to the balcony to watch our fellow Israeli students run off to join their reserve army units. Although we did not know it, during the first days of the war Israel was once again fighting for its very survival, just as it did in 1948 and 1967.
For years I marveled at these young Israelis and their fierce determination to defend their country. Even after I made Aliya in 1975 and served in the IDF, I clearly understood this sense of dedication to defend Israel, yet I had trouble explaining the source of that inner strength.
That was until about ten years ago when Shoshana and I attended an AIPAC Policy Conference, where we heard then-Senator Joe Biden speak.
Biden told the story of his trip to Israel in 1973 as a young Senator. It was just after the Yom Kippur War, and he met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. Biden describes his meeting with Golda Meir as follows:
Golda showed him various maps and explained to him why Israel’s military situation was not good. Biden said the meeting was very depressing. Then Golda said to him, “Senator, you look so worried.” She said, “Don’t worry; we have a secret weapon in our conflict with the Arabs.” Golda paused for a moment and then said: “You see, we have no place else to go.”
In her sermon for last Rosh Hashanah given at Temple Israel, Shoshana retold this story and commented: “I think that Golda’s one sentence says it all. It’s the secret to Israel’s survival and success. We have no place else to go. Now, for many American Jews, Golda’s statement may not make sense. If you are lucky enough to be among the descendants of Jewish immigrants who came to this country before World War II, then you have been blessed. After all, America has been very good for American Jews.”
“However, let us also remember that during the 1930’s, just when the Jews of Europe needed a safe haven, the world had closed its doors to Jewish immigration. Sadly, this included America.”
My Israeli cousins, the children of a Holocaust survivor, understand this in a way that American Jews may never comprehend.
Shoshana and her family, who came to Israel in 1951 as refugees from Iraq, understand this reality. For a majority of the 850,000 Jews who left their homes in the Arab world after 1948 due to rising antisemitism, Israel was the only place to go.
And had they not come to Israel, the Jews of the Arab world would have become the helpless victims of al-Qaeda, ISIS and other extremists.
To make that point, author Ari Shavit has called Israel, “a home for the homeless people.” Today, Israel continues to fill that role with Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia and Ukraine.
Yet the understanding that “we have no place else to go” has also motivated Israeli innovation in many areas. What do you do if you live in a land without natural resources? You innovate!
The Israelis that I know never took pride in military victories, but they do take great pride in the fact that Israel has become known as the “Start-Up Nation.” Israel’s amazing achievements in desert agriculture, hi-tech, water technology and medicine are accomplishments that we should all be proud of.
And Israelis take great pride in their democracy, as we recently saw when hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to uphold their democracy.
Finally, there is another aspect to Israel at 75 that we must not overlook. The rebirth of the modern Jewish state in the Land of Israel has given Jews from all over the world the opportunity to reconnect with our roots in our ancient homeland.
The amazing program called “Birthright” is just one example. Since its founding in 1999, Birthright has brought more than 750,000 young Jews to Israel. And each year, thousands of young Jewish Americans study in Israel in Yeshivot and seminaries.
For those of us who have been to the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, we know that intense feeling of connection to our Jewish roots. I have prayed at the Kotel countless times, yet I am always moved by my prayers there. For Shoshana and me, the high point of that experience was the Bar Mitzvah of our grandson at the Kotel last year (pictured above).
So, as we celebrate Israel at 75, let us remember all those who sacrificed to defend Israel and guarantee its survival. Let us take pride in Israel and its many accomplishments. And let us appreciate Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people, for the opportunity it provides to strengthen our sense of Jewish peoplehood.
Be sure to join us on Sunday, April 30 for our Yom Haatzmaut celebration and lunch
Community Relations Director