‘THE PROGRESS Judaism has made in the young Israeli state is unprecedented in all of Jewish history. By virtue of this, Israel has become a world cultural center that attracts visitors from all the world – not only Jewish ones – who come to see and learn.’.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On Independence Day the State of Israel will enter its seventieth year. This is a landmark year, and one which allows us to pause and look back at our state’s first decades in perspective.
Granted, by regular standards 70 years is a short period in the span of a nation’s lifetime, but for the State of Israel this was an intense period, both of activity and creativity, and of facing existential challenges of every kind. This intensity would befit a nation four or five times its age.
Over these years the young state faced the formidable challenges of absorbing immigrants from the four corners of the earth after 2,000 years of exile, including survivors of the Holocaust. The immigration was on an unprecedented scale in proportion to the population of the young state. It quadrupled its population in a short time and required the development of infrastructure, housing, transportation, communications, water and agriculture practically out of thin air and in a very short time, in a land with little in the way of natural resources.
The state withstood the test. Thanks to its own industry and hard work, in several years it developed the foundations of a leading world nation, in cultural and scientific development, in technological and agricultural innovation, in economic stability and modern infrastructure and in existing and new technologies.
This too would be considered respectable progress for a nation four or five times its age.
The young state had to meet the challenge of bridging the cultural gaps which developed as a consequence of Jewish populations being dispersed across the globe over two millennia of exile. Within a short time and with minimal resources, a unified society was successfully consolidated, thought admittedly more than a few mistakes were made in the process.
The amazing thing is that this young state, literally from its first day, wasn’t afforded a single moment of peace or tranquility. The day after its independence was proclaimed, it was attacked by five armies and had to fight for its survival in a war which hasn’t ended yet, and in which our enemies give us no rest. The only thing that changes is the form this war takes: from invading enemy armies to terrorism to organized uprisings; from suicide bombings to car-ramming attacks to stabbings. Israel’s history already includes several wars which threatened its existence, among them the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War. Ours is a unique state which must invest six percent of its gross national product in defense. This is twice the percentage that either the US or Russia expend. Only Saudi Arabia spends more. Additionally, the IDF is the most moral army in the world, and it demands of itself ethical standards on the battlefield which have no parallel in any other army on earth.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the vision of the Jewish state is evolving, numerically and culturally, into the center of the entire Jewish world.
According to the figures of the Institute of Contemporary Jewry, out of 14.4 million Jews worldwide, 6.3 million live in Israel as compared to 5.7 million in the United States. The progress Judaism has made in the young state is unprecedented in all of Jewish history.
By virtue of this, Israel has become a world cultural center which attracts visitors from all the world – and not only Jewish ones – who come to see and learn. “For from Zion will come forth Torah.”
It is impossible to comprehend the miracle of how in such a short time, a young and tiny state successfully withstood all of these challenges simultaneously. And this is in spite of the fact that numerous mistakes were made along the way. Israel is a young state which looks and acts like a veteran, mature state.
On Independence Day, we should note that the rapid rebirth of Israel has no parallel in human history. Especially in light of the fact that the Jews were a persecuted nation dispersed across the world for 2,000 years, and only a handful managed to live in the land of Israel during the exile.
This unique phenomenon has spellbound men of spirit from the entire world and of all religions. They cannot remain aloof to this, and they are constantly trying to understand the secret of this magic.
So what can we say to our state on its birthday? On one hand, the State of Israel has many good reasons to be satisfied with itself, as an established and mature state. On the other hand, it cannot afford to “grow old” and to think it has reached its peak, and that after it has “done its share” it can sit back and enjoy the fruits of its success.
It has to remain young, vibrant and energetic, and hungry for the new challenges which will surely knock on its doors. Israel can also count on its enemies, who haven’t yet reconciled with its existence, to never give it the deceptive luxury of getting too comfortable.
On Independence Day we have to remind ourselves that the vision of the Jewish state is an eternal vision which has no bounds and no end. There is always where to make progress and more to do. And we will not allow ourselves to be satisfied with less than perfection.The author, a rabbi and colonel in the IDF reserves, is the rosh yeshiva of the Meir Harel Hesder Yeshiva Modi’in – Ofakim.