It’s hard for me to imagine; my mother-in-law was born into a world in which Israel did not exist. For two entire years of her life, there was no Jewish homeland, no refuge. Then again, there was also no Jewish/Palestinian conflict, jihad, suicide bombings, or assassinations of a Jewish Prime Minister by another Jew. There was no war, thus no need for peace, no Oslo Accord, no Camp David meetings, no UN sanction threats or United States political pressure. Bleeding heart liberalism was not yet to sweep through the American and European landscapes and militant Islam had yet to mature. On the other hand, the soil of Poland was still soaked with Jewish blood, the rivers still clogged with Jewish ash and the world still confounded about what to do with us. The stakes for the Jews were higher everywhere else in the world, but British-controlled Palestine was quiet, and swampy, and relatively peaceful. My, how times have changed.
I have never known a world without an independent State of Israel. I remember in high school, marveling at the fact that such a tiny piece of land could house so much holiness, so many people, so many opinions and so much controversy. I always drew a parallel between the War of Independence and the War of the Macabees. I know it’s no chiddush (new insight), but the similarities are too numerous to deny. The few conquering the many, the weak conquering the mighty etc. Yom Ha’Atzmaut always did, and will continue to, fill me with awe for the echo of miracles originally “baymim ha heim” performed “b’zman ha zeh.” I look at Israel’s birth and sustenance as proof of G-d’s mighty Hand pulling a whole whack of heavenly strings. There is simply no other way to put it: Israel exists by G-d’s grace alone. And what’s even more awe inspiring is the fact that Israel does more than exist, it thrives. In such a short span of time it has pulled itself up by the boot straps and transformed itself from a country of traumatized Holocaust survivors to a world leader in technology and agriculture, culturally rich and diverse and the lone true democracy in the Mid-East region. It has turned swamp into oasis, desert into farm and brought together Jews from all over the world reinventing to modern concept of the Jewish nation.
To be sure, Israel’s existence has been, and is, fraught with tension. Tensions between Israel and its neighbours, between Israelis and Palestinians, and the most distressing of all, the tension between the Jews themselves. If it’s not secularists versus religious, its peaceniks versus settlers, nationalists versus extreme Chareidim. You name the faction, I’ll bet they have a beef with the group of Jews living directly to their (insert direction). You know what they say: two Jews, three opinions. Multiply that by about three million and that’s Israel for you. There are as many opinions on how to run the country as there are incredible Kosher restaurants in it, and if you’ve ever met an Israeli, you’ll know they’re not shy about sharing their opinions, or food, anytime, anywhere. It’s the only country in which your cab driver can teach you the daf yomi on your ride from the airport to Yerushalayim and bartenders quote Pirkei Avot when they give advice to the patrons who seek it. Israel is a land of dichotomies – a peace loving people constantly at war, the holiest people in the holiest place going about their mundane, everyday lives, the Chosen Ones so often feeling that perhaps the choice has changed – making it almost impossible for everyone to get along. No one ever said that pulling together the entire range of the Jewish spectrum in one tiny piece of land would be easy.
Webster’s New World Dictionary defines independent as: “free from the influence or control of others; specific a) self-governing b) self-determined, self reliant etc…” The tachlis of it all is that no matter how hard we try, Israel never can be, nor should we want it to be, independent. I would never want Israel to be free of the influence or control of G-d. It is when we begin to delude ourselves that we are truly self-determined and self-reliant that we are destined to learn that it is not so by being forced into subservience of earthly masters. There have been too many times over our turbulent history when the Jews have distanced themselves from Hashem’s providence, claiming to be independent of the yolk of heaven. It has never ended well for us, and we have learned through suffering that true independence can only be achieved by clinging to G-d and being a devoted eved Hashem. So on this 60th glorious year of Israel, the country so ready for true, eternal independence, I wish us all the strength of will and conviction, to be part of the hastening of the Moshiach, b’mheira b’yameinu, amen.