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.
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.
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.
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].
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
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
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
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