"I’m worried." That’s the refrain I’ve heard from countless friends, sharing their feelings about Israel as it celebrates its 75th birthday. There is legitimacy to these concerns. Israel is torn apart on the issue of judicial reform, on matters of separation of church and state, on the correctness of refusing to serve in the IDF for political reasons.
But just for a moment, on whatever side of the aisle we may be, we might consider stepping back and assessing the land, the nation we love, from a distance. We should do so in the spirit of the prophet Jeremiah, who proclaims, “From afar, the Lord appeared to me, declaring, ‘My love for you is everlasting.’”
Surveying the whole scene
There is, I believe, great truth in this observation. When looking at each other, when looking closely at people we love most, even ourselves, we see warts, and wrinkles, traits and habits we may not like. When stepping back, however, surveying the whole scene, the picture alters.
The downside is being overwhelmed by all the good we see in the other and in ourselves. The ugly spots are eclipsed by the wholeness of the beauty we behold.
This, too, should be an exercise we adopt on the 75th anniversary of Israel’s existence. Looking from above at the scene below, we should offer thanks for a fledgling state that, in just three-quarters of a century, made possible what seemed impossible.
Much like the “Dayenu” we sing at the Seder, where we say “If God had only done this for us, it would have been enough,” we should do the same in our relationship with Israel. The exercise involves what we often take for granted but should be forever appreciated. Here are some suggestions, in the hope that readers add their own items to the list.
Suggestions to say 'Dayenu'
IF ISRAEL had only increased in size from 600,000 Jews in 1948 to a country of nine million with more than seven million Jews, a majority of whom are Jews of color, together making up about 50% of Jews worldwide: Dayenu.
If Hebrew, a language all but forgotten 150 years ago, would only have been reborn, with millions conversing in the holy tongue, agreeing, arguing, in business, in social settings, in love, in prayer: Dayenu.
If Israel had only absorbed 1.5 million Jews from the former Soviet Union; if it had only brought 150,000 of our black Ethiopian sisters and brothers, not in the bowels of ships to slavery, but to freedom: Dayenu.
If Israel had only developed one of the strongest per capita armies in the world, a most moral army that lives and breathes the principle of tohar haneshek, purity of arms: Dayenu.
If Israel had only risen to become a great start-up nation in technology, science and medicine to benefit its citizenry and the entire world: Dayenu.
If Israel, surrounded by despotic dictatorships, had only developed a thriving democracy, with Jews and Arabs from across the political spectrum represented in the Knesset and Supreme Court: Dayenu.
If Israel were only the place where more Torah is being studied by more people than at any time in all of history: Dayenu.
It’s not so common for people to realize their dreams, even parts of their dreams, in their lifetime. At 75, Israel has done just that, even as there is much more to be done.
For a moment, however, let’s offer our Dayenu – not a list of why we are worried about Israel, but a list of why we’re proud.
The writer is the founding rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale – the Bayit, and founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat rabbinical schools. He is a longtime activist for Israel, Jewish causes and human rights. His thematic commentary on the Torah, Loving Torah: Torat Ahavah is scheduled for publication this summer.