A man with an Israeli flag covering his backpack looks at an Israeli flag made of lights installed on the wall of Jerusalem's Old City.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As we prepare to make the abrupt annual shift from memorializing our fallen soldiers to celebrating the independence of the nation for which they gave their lives, it is worthwhile to take a deep breath and acknowledge what an amazing era we live in.
“As Israel turns 68, half of world Jewry calls it home,” was this paper’s lead headline Tuesday.
Consider how many truly miraculous facts are packed into that short statement: Not only does a Jewish state exist on the same sliver of land in the Middle East where the story of the Jewish people began four millennia ago, but this state at the age of 68 is thriving to such an extent that it has managed to attract the majority of Jews throughout the world.
Today, not just refugees seeking shelter from anti-Semitic regimes or crushing poverty make their homes in the Jewish state (although they do as well, as evidenced from the recent rise in immigration to Israel from Ukraine or the arrival of Falash Mura). Contemporary Israel competes with the most advanced Western states in quality of living and opportunities for professional growth, and it is a place for Jews of all types and affiliations to make a home for themselves without feeling self-conscious about their Jewishness.
We take all this for granted. We take it in stride that Israel is overrepresented in the number of patents it produces per capita, or in the number of PhDs, published scientific papers, companies listed on NASDAQ, or start-ups per capita. And we do all this in a Hebrew that would be comprehensible to a character from the Bible.
We also take for granted that we accomplished all this while facing myriad challenges. We fought conventional and unconventional wars against all of our neighbors and an internal war against the Palestinian population. We absorbed a huge immigrant population that included millions from underdeveloped countries. We contain a huge Arab minority that at best does not identify with Israel’s Jewish symbols and character. We faced – and continue to face – societal rifts between religious and secular, Right and Left, Ashkenazi and Sephardi. And all along we somehow manage to maintain a strong and vibrant democratic culture of public debate in which people are free to speak their minds and the most fundamental moral questions facing our society are openly discussed.
These are no small accomplishments. Those of us with a spiritual or religious bent would call what happened here a miracle. At the very least, the wildly successful return of the Jewish people to their historic land is one of the most amazing stories ever. That the Jews are the protagonists of the Bible – the foundational document of the three monotheistic religions that repeatedly mentions the Jews’ return to Israel – makes the story exciting, provocative, a source of jealousy and a theological conundrum for hundreds of millions of Christians and Muslims around the world.
These astounding accomplishments came with a hefty, almost unbearable price. Today, Remembrance Day, we pay honor to the 23,447 casualties of war and terrorism who gave their lives for the cause of ensuring that no Jew would ever be forced to wander rootless, homeless and defenseless.
From anywhere in the world, a Jew can get on a plane and be home in a matter of hours. It was not long ago that such a reality would be unfathomable.
It’s true that Jews in Israel run greater personal risks than their brothers and sisters in the Diaspora. In places such as France, for example, Jews are less likely to be killed by anti-Semitic terrorists than in Israel. But there is something empowering in the knowledge that, as Israeli Jews, we need not rely on the continued largesse of those in power to see our children home safely from school or to protect synagogue- goers on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
And unlike America, where assimilation endangers Jewish continuity, Israel is the only country in the world where the number of Jews is increasing.
Does 68-year-old Israel have challenges? By all means.
Perhaps the biggest is the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians.
And there are other challenges. Our education system needs a revamping; our business environment is plagued by needless bureaucracy; our productivity is too low; our public transportation system is underdeveloped; housing is too expensive.
Should we strive for improvement? Of course we should.
But as we transition from Remembrance Day to Independence Day, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that we live in an amazing Jewish era.