Youth from all over the world celebrating Israeli independence at the Western Wall.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)
On the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence, dignitaries, Jewish leaders and intellectuals will try to characterize the rich and vibrant history of the Jewish state from countless angles and perspectives. Some may question the state of affairs in Israel and examine the diverse opinions that comprise our democracy.
But at this moment, rather than focus on the schisms that separate us, we have an opportunity to unite around the timeless narrative of our people – the long-awaited miracle of the end of the Jewish Exile that resulted in the creation of Israel.
With courage and anticipation, the members of the Jewish people left their adopted countries and customs behind, abandoned their languages, and returned home to the Land of Israel. It was the iconic homecoming of our time, and it unified our people for the first time in more than three millennia.
The physical homecoming of the Jews to the Land of Israel took well over a century, ebbing and flowing with influxes of immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Gulf region, the Horn of Africa and beyond.
The turn of the 20th century, however, witnessed another effort to revive the special language that conjoined world Jewry.
With the early Zionist movement gaining momentum, Eliezer Yitzhak Perlman, the man who would become Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, had a vision to revive the Hebrew language, convinced that the reinstatement of Modern Hebrew in the Land of Israel could unify the Jewish people. For Ben-Yehuda, combining that special Jewish language with the future Jewish state would remedy the brokenness of exile and reconnect our people after 3,000 years of separation by land, sea, culture and language.
By the time of his death in 1922 and through the early years of the state, Ben-Yehuda’s vision became reality. Jews everywhere were returning to the Land of Israel and adopting Modern Hebrew as the language of their everyday lives and as their children’s mother tongue. At the same time, ulpan classes sprung up across the Jewish world, connecting both the young and the old to the ancient language of the Jewish people. It became clear that no matter one’s past – whether a part of the Jewish population that had never left the Land of Israel, a former shtetl-dweller, a German-Jewish refugee, or a Middle Eastern Jewish immigrant – Hebrew was the language of the united Jewish people.
Both of my parents were products of this transformative time of Jewish unity. My mother, Yocheved, was an original dweller of the Land of Israel. Her family’s presence in the Holy Land reflected the important continuity of Jewish inhabitance within the homeland for thousands of years. My father, Yosef, immigrated to Israel just after we declared independence, from Alexandria, Egypt, and perfected his grasp of Hebrew, like so many Jews who had come home to Israel from the farthest corners of the earth. He embraced the melting pot of our young state, serving in the military and helping to build, out of the darkness of exile, one new Jewish nation, speaking one language and defending ourselves with one heart.
Over the last few decades, from near and far, I have watched as Israel has welcomed entire communities into the Jewish state – from the Jews of Ethiopia to the millions of Soviet Jews who sought to come home.
I have listened to stories from my parents, who came from different places but built their life together in their homeland. I’ve met our communities who spoke different languages and carried diverse cultural identities, but who knew no other home than the Jewish State of Israel.
When I represent Israel every day at the UN, I represent all of our citizens – young and old, male and female, religious and secular – because defending the State of Israel means defending all the people of Israel. Regardless of where we stand, what we do, how we believe, and with whom we associate, Israel is the home of all Jews everywhere. As we celebrate Israel’s first 70 years, we venerate the age-old Jewish vision of “one nation, one heart,” which made us what we are today. On this 70th birthday celebration, together – as one Jewish nation – we wish the State of Israel a heartfelt Mazel tov! and toast l’chaim! to all of our people and our generations to come.Danny Danon is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.
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