Today, October 30, is the greatest day in Jewish history. Never before in the history of our people have we been stronger militarily, economically or religiously. We Jews are a superpower the likes of which haven’t been experienced since the days of our ancient kingdoms.
Today, more Jews are citizens of a Jewish state than ever before in history.
This is the first generation of Jews in 2,000 years the vast majority of which have no idea of what it is like to grow up without the emotional comfort of knowing that there is a Jewish army sworn to protect them wherever they may live.
That army, the IDF, is one of the strongest armies in the world. It is an army that is feared by its foes and admired by its friends, an army dedicated to the preservation of both the Jewish people and its state. It is an army that has and will continue to cross borders and fly into enemy territory to protect Jews who are under threat. It is an army that marches in Hebrew, rests on Shabbat, and is one of the first responders when tragedy strikes poor nations around the globe.
We have built a socioeconomic infrastructure here that takes care of the weaker elements of our society and a healthcare system that makes ObamaCare look like a third-world enterprise.
More Jews are studying Torah today than studied in all of the academies of ancient Palestine and Babylon combined. Most of these students study at institutions that are at least partially funded by the government, and many of them receive stipends from the government to continue their studies. In other words, the secular State of Israel has done more to enable the advancement of Torah than King Hezekiah himself.
Almost every synagogue and mikve in Israel receives government funding. That means that every prayer offered to God might as well carry a hashtag reading #ThanksIsrael! The average Jew today is even wealthier than King Solomon himself. And while it is an anti-Semitic stereotype that all Jews are rich, Jews comprise 20 percent of the Forbes list of the top 50 billionaires and 20% of Nobel Prize winners. Not bad for a people that makes up only a 20th of 1% of the world’s population.
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And yet, if Israel were only some third-world country in which children wore rags, playing kick the can in the unpaved streets while raw sewage flowed by, one could still point to the scene and see in it the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
The reality is that Israel is a first-world nation ranking as one of the most desirable (and unfortunately expensive) countries to live in. With a GDP per capita ahead of Japan, Italy and South Korea, Israel offers the Jewish people a home that is more comfortable and offers a better experience than most of the countries on this earth.
We have a life expectancy here that beats Iceland, New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, England and the United States. This is in spite of being in a constant threat of war.
I am reminded of this because in the last few weeks we have been enduring a wave of terrorism. Arab citizens of Israel along with Palestinians have been attacking Jews because they are Jews. While it is a scary and challenging time, it’s been said before that the solution to terrorism is quite simple: Don’t let yourself be terrorized! The reality is quite simple. More Jews have been hurt in car accidents since this most recent wave than by the terrorists. More Jews have died of cancer than from any of these attacks.
It is difficult to lose perspective in trying times, but we have never had it so good.
We Jews are living through a golden age of Jewish history. After hearing the description of this era, any past generation would have been convinced that it is the epoch of the Messiah. This is the era of which any generation in the future will have to be convinced that Messiah had not already come.
This offers little comfort to those who have been personally affected, especially those who have lost loved ones. Their loss is real and their lives are now shattered.
But to the nation as a whole, as we endure this latest wave of Arab violence, it is important to put the situation, or the “matzav” as it is known here in Hebrew, into its proper perspective in our history.
Walking through Jerusalem, there is a line in Hebrew that I’ve seen scrawled all over the place in the last few years and especially in the last few weeks: “Am hanetzah lo mefahed miderech aruka,” the eternal people fear not the long road.
The line, or better yet, the motto, was coined by Rabbi Yehoshua Weitzman, the head of Yeshivat Ma’alot. Ma’alot has been seared into the collective consciousness of the Israeli public as the scene of one of the most brutal terrorist attacks in 1974 when members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine broke into an elementary school building and massacred 22 children and their three teachers.
This was after they had already murdered three Israeli women, one of them seven months pregnant, a toddler, and two men on their way to the school.
Yeshivat Ma’alot was established the very next year and serves as the classic Jewish response to terrorism. We build even more and retreat, not from the enemy but into our Torah, a wellspring of life.
Weitzman based his motto on the words of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi and the spiritual grandfather of Religious Zionism. It is an idea that encapsulates the spirit of our youth and the enduring nature of our people.
The idea of us being an eternal people translates into having the patience needed during rough patches in our history. We can endure the bumps because we know that the road is long and have settled in for the long haul. We are assured that even if we don’t make it individually to the finale, the Jewish people will survive – and that’s good enough for us.
Jewish history is not over. The story has not ended. Each of us has a role to play on the stage of Jewish history. For some, it’s a starring role; for others, it’s just a walkon.
But each role is absolutely important for the adventure to reach its conclusion.
Look for ways to make your role stand out. Some of the most enduring characters in cinema and theater are supporting roles. What role will you play? The writer is a doctoral candidate in Jewish philosophy and teaches in many post-high school yeshivot and midrashot.
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