Welcome 5780

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah and the Jewish New Year of 5780, it is worth asking whether Israel has lived up to this ideal.

September 28, 2019 19:51
3 minute read.
Pomegranates seen piled up at Machane Yehuda market, just in time for Rosh Hashana.

Pomegranates seen piled up at Machane Yehuda market, just in time for Rosh Hashana.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

In 1962, Israel’s founding father and first prime minister David Ben-Gurion gave a speech at a convention of the Israel National Academy.

The historic ideal of the people of Israel, he said, was to be “a model nation and a light unto the nations.” That ideal, he said, should be the “guiding star” in all of Israel’s efforts.

Ben-Gurion went on to say that he was aware some people might scoff at such “foolishness” and claim that this historic ideal is no longer compatible with modern science and practice. But he defended the idea, saying that it was what had “preserved Jewry under conditions no other people could have faced.”

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah and the Jewish New Year of 5780, it is worth asking whether Israel has lived up to this ideal.

Is the Jewish state a model nation, one whose actions and principles can be copied by others? Does it still shine light in the dark corners of the globe?

In some respects, the answer is a resounding yes. Israel in 5779 continued to open its doors to new immigrants from Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union, and Western countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and France.

It continued to offer medical aid to countries in need across the globe, like Sri Lanka after the devastating bombing attacks there in April. Earlier this year, a 130-member rescue team was dispatched to Brazil after 40 people were killed and hundreds were missing when a dam collapsed in the southwest of the country.

Israelis continued to innovate, and its technology continued to help improve the lives of those in need.

Monaco’s Prince Albert II, for example, installed an Israeli-made Watergen machine, which turns air into water, in his family’s 700-year-old legendary palace. GEN-350, the water generator created by the company, can produce up to 900 liters of water per day. It weighs a mere 800 kilograms, making the system transportable and easily installable.

And across Israel this past week, tens of thousands of food packages were distributed by a variety of organizations to people in need. The eve of the New Year is a time when Jews traditionally come together and think about the poor and those in need of help. We have an opportunity to reflect on what we have and on those who are not as lucky.

Where we have room to improve though is in our political system. People around the world are looking confused at Israel right now, wondering what happened to the strong and creative people that turned the desert into a flourishing and prosperous country. How can Israel, these people question, not be able to establish a governing coalition especially in light of the challenges that the State of Israel faces, like Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and a growing economic deficit?

While these are legitimate questions and concerns, Israel has a lot to be thankful for as it celebrates the New Year. It might have political instability and uncertainty, but it is a true and genuine democracy even if its politicians cannot find a way to join forces and establish a government. Its people are vibrant, free and able to openly criticize their elected officials. They can say what they want and practice the religion that they want. No one is hanging anyone here because of sexual orientation.

As we reflect on the year that was and plan out the year to come, there is an opportunity to consider what we have achieved as a nation, and where we want to go.

Being a light unto the nations is a lofty goal that demands of us to live by a high set of morals and values. We should not run away from this challenge but we should embrace it. Ben-Gurion saw the beauty of a modern state that was powered by its historic and religious values. Let us use 5780 to make that vision into a reality.

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