Wednesday night and all of yesterday, Israelis celebrated 70 years of independence. The streets were filled with men, women and children of all ages, who comprised many different ethnic backgrounds and also represented a wide spectrum of religious and political convictions. They came together to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Music and fireworks by night, picnics, barbecues, beaches by day, Yom Ha’atzmaut in Israel is a sight to be seen and experienced.
A section of the Mishah called Pirke Avot teaches about the ages and stages of a person’s life and describes seventy as having reached “the fullness of years.” (Sixty is the age when one becomes an elder). Israel today has not yet reached its “fullness of years.” Israel is just beginning. It can seem miraculous how much Israel has achieved and experienced in these short seventy years. Despite some very difficult challenges facing Israel today, both from within and without, and despite some deep wounds inflicted upon the social fabric of the nation, both self-inflicted and caused by others on the outside, Israel remains strong and resolute.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks wrote a beautiful reflection this week called Israel: The Heart of Judaism
in which he shared the following thoughts:
“Without a land and state, Judaism is a shadow of itself. God may still live in the heart, but not in the public square, in the justice of the courts, the morality of the economy and the humanitarianism of everyday life. . .
“Jews have lived in almost every country under the sun. In 4,000 years, only in Israel have they been able to live as a free, self-governing people. Only in Israel have they been able to construct an agriculture, a medical system, an economic infrastructure, in the spirit of the Torah and its concern for freedom, justice and the sanctity of life. . .
“Only in Israel can Jews today speak the Hebrew of the Bible as the language of everyday speech. Only there can they live Jewish time within a calendar structured according to the rhythms of the Jewish year. Only in Israel can Jews once again walk where the prophets walked, climb the mountains Abraham climbed and to which David lifted his eyes. Israel is the only place where Jews have been able to live Judaism in anything other than an edited edition, continuing the story their ancestors began.”
“Only in Israel” is a marvelous refrain to reflect upon as we celebrate the extraordinary achievements of the last seventy years, and the limitless possibilities for the future while we also consider the enormous amount of work that still needs to be done for Israel to truly reflect the Jewish and democratic values upon which she was established.
Let us pray the words that Rabbi Sacks offers, “May the light of the State of Israel which shines a little brighter each year, continue to be a blessing, not only to the Jewish people but also to the world.”
Rabbi Charles K. Briskin