Israel inspired: A people of hope and agents of change

By JEREMY GIMPEL
August 8, 2013 12:11

Every time a eulogy was expressed over the Jewish people, a renewal and rebirth was taking place under the surface.




Australians and their American counterparts meet to discuss Jewish peoplehood.

Australians and Americans discuss Jewish peoplehood 521. (photo credit: Laura Kelly)

In 1897, Ahad Ha’am, a prominent modern Jewish thinker, penned an essay called “The Jewish State and Jewish Problem.” With conviction and unfailing logic, he lays out why the Zionist movement will fail and the impossibility of there ever being a new Jewish state. If I was not sitting in Jerusalem under an Israeli flag, I would swear he was right on each and every point.

After explaining the economic impossibility of sustaining a new Jewish society in Zion with no industry, infrastructure or natural resources, he proceeds to address the almost mythical notion – the return of the Jews to Israel.

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“Truth is bitter. But even with its bitterness, better bitter than illusion. We must confess to ourselves that the ‘ingathering of the exiles’ is unattainable by natural means. We may, by natural means, establish a Jewish state one day, and the Jews may increase and multiply in it until the country will hold no more; but even then the greater part of the people will remain scattered in strange lands. ‘To gather our scattered ones from the four corners of the earth’ (in the words of the prayer book) is impossible.

Only religion, with its belief in a miraculous redemption, can promise that consummation.”

In light of the vision Ahad Ha’am shared, it is either wryly humorous or maybe profoundly religious to take stock in what Israel is today. Israel is home to over 120,000 Ethiopian Jews, over a million Russian Jews and a respectable Jewish representation from North America, South America, Australia, Europe, Africa, Asia – pretty much every country in the world. Defying logic and statistics, the Jewish people have always found a way. We have never lost hope in our purpose, our place in the world and our home. Not yet.

Jews have survived catastrophe after catastrophe, in ways unparalleled by any other culture. Every time a eulogy was expressed over the Jewish people, a renewal and rebirth was taking place under the surface.

In fact, every tragedy in Jewish history was followed by a wave of inspiration and renaissance of Jewish life. The destruction of the First Temple led to the renewal of a national Torah life headed by Ezra the Scribe. The destruction of the Second Temple led to the codification of the Jewish oral tradition through the Mishna and Talmud. The oppression and pogroms of Europe led to the establishment of the spiritual Hassidic movement. The Spanish Expulsion was followed by a mystical revival in Safed in the 16th century. And the greatest devastation of all led to the greatest rebirth: from the ashes of the Holocaust, the Jewish people, only three years later, declared independence in their ancient homeland.

In Babylon 2,600 years ago, the prophet Ezekiel had a haunting vision of a valley of dry bones and skeletons.

God asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel replied, “Only you know, God.” The bones then came together, the sinews, flesh and skin covered the bones, and finally the bones began to breathe again. Then God said, “Son of man, these bones are the whole House of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost’ [avda tikvateinu].

Therefore, prophecy and say to them, ‘My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the Land of Israel.’” Naftali Herz Imber, the author of Israel’s national anthem, was alluding to this scripture when he wrote the phrase, “We have not yet lost hope” – Od lo avda tikvateinu. When every human instinct was calling for us to give up and lose hope, Israel was born again. In fact, true to our name, Israel refers to struggling with God and with man, and prevailing in those struggles. We have been challenged by humanity and the divine in our national existence, and still we have prevailed time and time again.

Some of the greatest thinkers in history have marveled at the immortality of the Jewish people. As larger and mightier empires have risen to power and dominated the world, the Jew has seen them all, confronted them all and outlasted them all.

What is the secret of Jewish perseverance? I believe that throughout the ages, the Jewish people felt a connection to ideals and values beyond the individual self. We believed that we were participating in a historic collective enterprise, and that we were acting on behalf of past and future generations.

Our intergenerational national mission gave us an unparalleled conviction and powered our 2,000-year journey, until finally making it back home to Israel.

From time immemorial, the Jewish people have always seen themselves as the healers of the world. We believed that we were destined to confront the challenges of every generation, and ultimately leave this world having made it a better place for humanity.

What is remarkable and borderline miraculous is that although Jews today are still geographically scattered and religiously and politically polarized, if you ask any Jew from any background what the purpose is of being Jewish, their answer will be the same : Tikkun olam, to repair the world. Although the practical expression of this ideal may vary from learning Torah to fighting disease in Africa, the ultimate goal across the world is united.

Every Jew who stays loyal to his or her people contributes to their journey and thereby adds something to the story of the Jewish people. You become an agent of hope in the world and a living character in the greatest story humanity has ever told.

Israel is facing its greatest challenge to date. It’s not an existential threat from without but a crisis of identity within.

Influenced by the postmodern Western world, Israel and the Jewish people at large seem shorn of any clear identity, with each person living in pursuit of purely individualistic goals. We are, and we always will be, a people called on to choose life and change the world. We must never lose that identity, for if we do, we will surely perish.

We must remember that Israel has a universal message and a national destiny.

In a region surrounded by terror, death, fear and tyranny, we eternally symbolize the victory of life over death and hope over despair. We have been strategically located in the darkest of regions as agents of change, and our goal is the same it was when we were last in our land: to fix this broken world.

The writer is a filmmaker, journalist and educator. He is the deputy director of the World Mizrachi Movement.


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