"In Israel, in order to be a realist,
you have to believe in miracles."
– David Ben Gurion
In fact, only fifty-one years intervened between that first Congress and the State of Israel’s Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948. What began as an evanescent movement – whose most ardent supporters never believed that the object of Jewish sovereignty in Palestine would be achieved in their lifetime – became a national movement that shaped a society and nation and built a dynamic modern state with a vibrant society and culture.
The re-establishment in 1948 of a sovereign state in the land of our ancestors reversed a long history of powerlessness. Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the Shoah, with Jews from almost every corner of the world and multivalent cultures, Israel is a collective affirmation of the refrain Am Yisrael Chai!
The nation of Israel is 65 years old, but the story of how the Third Commonwealth came into existence encompasses nearly 6,000 years of Jewish history. As Herzl proclaimed, it is an "old-new" land, as ancient as the sand that blows across the mosaic tiles at Masada, as old as the gnarled olive trees that dot the country, and as eternal as the basic tenets of Judaism that forged our identity and our aspirations, upon which the nation was founded. It’s a miracle!
It’s a tale of a nation’s will to exist against all odds, a will to survive in the face of adversity. It is a story of religious faith, of pioneering spirit, of ingenuity, creativity, and purposefulness that turned a desert, a virtual wasteland, into a thriving modern nation, a dead language into a living one, millions of ragged, rejected, shattered refugees into a proud people. The promised land of milk and honey with more promises still to be fulfilled.
"This is a nation of museums and patents, timeless holy sites and ground-breaking innovation. Only in Israel can you see the Dead Sea Scrolls and the place where the technology on board the Mars Rover originated at the same time," President Barak Obama said on his recent trip to Israel. It is a place with a sacred past and a glorious future.
How probable is it that this tiny people, exiled from their land for almost 2,000 years, numbering less than one-fifth of one percent of the world’s population, should have outlived the world’s greatest empires – the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans – who tried to destroy us, and still we survive to stand and sing Ha-Tikvah, "a free people in our own land" in the world’s toughest neighborhood. It’s nothing short of miraculous.
The early Zionists were determined to throw off the image of the Diaspora Jew – physically weak, a stranger to nature and working the soil, bourgeois, and shackled by their religious faith. They fashioned their own new symbols, were driven by a utopian vision, and imagined themselves as the "new Maccabees."
In his poem "They Say There is a Land," poet Saul Tschernichovsky writes: "A miracle did not happen to us." These Israelis did not believe in miraculous redemption; they believe in making miracles.
Israel’s establishment and existence was and is accompanied by conflict and with wars. It is a contentious society, with serious struggles within various sectors, economic, religious and educational disparity. Yet, within a little more than a half a century, Israel has built a nation, gathered in Jews from around the world, created a vibrant democracy with arguably the most self-critical media in the world, a modern economy, an impressive defense force, a flourishing and rich cultural life and stands in the forefront of scientific and technological research.
Herzl said, "If you will it, it is no dream," but he could never have dreamed of Israel’s many achievements.
Israel’s 65th anniversary is cause for celebration and rejoicing. Then we must turn to ensuring that the problems that bedevil Israel are remedied.
Israel can make peace and live in peace with the Palestinians and her neighbors, with the same courage and resolve with which the nation was built. That, too, will be miraculous and a fulfillment of the words of the prophets of yore.
"Then shall yet old men and old women sit in the broad places of Jerusalem...and the squares shall be filled with boys and girls at play...And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in Jerusalem, and they shall be My people and I shall be their God, in truth and in righteousness." (Zechariah 4-8)
In an era of often bewildering change, many of us find comfort and fulfillment in helping others through the Jewish Federation Annual Campaign. This is true because Jews are hard-wired to care for those less fortunate than ourselves … and to contribute what we can to improving the quality of life in our community. We also have a responsibility to ‘pay it forward’ for the benefit of the generations who will come after us.
Did you know that your contribution to the JCC Send a Kid to Camp Scholarship Fund, for example, pays it forward by helping to provide positive, formative summer experiences to those who might not otherwise be able to afford them.
Paying it forward means helping Jewish Family Service to operate a food pantry and provide counseling for a woman who is being verbally abused. Your gift to Federation helps with these programs, too.
When the Federation allocates money for Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy, Ezra Academy, Hebrew High School of New England, or the Jewish High School of Connecticut, we are paying it forward. That’s because the Jewish education the children receive will provide a strong foundation for their adult lives.
The story goes on and on. Every contribution to the Annual Campaign strengthens Jewish life in greater New Haven by helping people. Make a gift to the 2013 Annual Campaign.