When You Look At The World Today…
When I look out my window today and see a tree standing there, that tree gives me a greater sense of beauty and personal delight than all the vast forests I have seen in Switzerland or Scandinavia. Because every tree here was planted by us. It was nursed to life by the water that we brought to it at such cost and effort. Why does a mother love her children? Because here again they are her creation. Why does the Jew have affinity for Israel? Because here again everything remains to be accomplished. It is his privilege and his place to share in this creative act. The trees at Sde Boker speak to me in a special way, in another language than other trees anywhere. Not only because I helped to grow them but because they constitute a gift of the Jews to the cradle of their culture. (from the Memoirs of David Ben-Gurion)
When I look out my window today I am concerned that we are confused about Israel in these highly polarized times but I still want to believe in those trees with a prayer and a hope. When I sit at my desk, I look at an unusual photo of David Ben-Gurion with a young Senator JFK and Franklin Roosevelt Jr. discussing dreams of Israel’s future. My Zionism fiercely informs my Jewish being and my rabbinate, even in these trying times, tarnished yet grounded in the Torah of antiquity and the modern dreams of Ben-Gurion. I am proud to call myself a Zionist and a lover of Israel, all the while acknowledging that my hope is for more, just as I wish the same for the USA and the dreams of Washington, Lincoln and FDR.
Much as we have never known America as it is in these days, there is a parallelism to that perspective with Israel, too. The early pioneers in Israel sang a popular song, “Anu banu artza livnot ulihibanot ba – We have come to the land to build and be rebuilt by it.” They were idealistic and doing more than building a country. They were transforming themselves and reclaiming an ancient birthright. And though we may sometimes drift off course, I am not willing to throw the baby out with the bath water. There is nothing wrong with Israel that cannot be fixed by what is right about Israel, present and future, both inextricably linked to the past.
Our brothers and sisters of yesterday reclaimed the land and created a democratic, modern nation state with dreams that it would reflect the best of Jewish values and of a just society of all peoples. Writ large upon its flag which makes us feel proud were liberty, equality and human rights for all. It guaranteed equality and voting rights for women and remains the only democracy in the Middle East today. Its Declaration of Independence guarantees “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race, or sex,” as well as a guarantee of freedom of religion.
Herzl, Weizmann, Jabotinsky, Ben-Gurion and Golda emphasized the need to combine Jewish nationalism with universalism. So now when some appear to have turned their backs on these sacred values and the Zionist ethos, it is easy to give up hope. It is easy to become disillusioned when we are ignored. It is easy to be fearful with the rise of anti-Semitism and the threat of BDS. But after 71 years of a modern miracle, Israel, warts and all, remains to me a beacon of possibilities with seeds to be planted, saplings to be nurtured, and trees to be cared for. Let us remain committed to our hopes.
Let us continue to be touched by the lyrics of Hatikvah, written by Naftali Imber (1878), as he reflected on 2,000 years of Jews dreaming to return to the Land of Israel, yearning to restore it and to reclaim its sovereignty. Born and raised in the Pale of Settlement, he dreamt of Israel. In that poem which was to become the national anthem of Israel 70 years later, he wrote “Our hope is not lost yet.”
As you begin and exit the profoundly moving exhibits of Yad VaShem, Israel’s memorial to the Holocaust, you view a brief film from the early ‘30’s of young children at a Zionist school in Munkacs, Hungary singing Hatikvah. In the initial viewing you are depressed and hopeless. But as you finish and walk out of the building, you look ahead to the bright outdoors.
When I look out my window today as you exit Yad VaShem, you see the distant green Judean Hills as you hear the children singing Hatikvah once again. Those hopeful kids had a dream, even though most perished. The museum designers wanted us to walk outside to the Israeli sun and recognize the hope of Israel alive in the 21st century. At its founding, Ben-Gurion, declared that those who built Israel “made deserts bloom, revised the Hebrew language, built villages and towns and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants…” Then, he noted how Israel was built upon “the ideals of the Jewish prophets and modern science.”
Let Israel continue to represent how hope can be realized, of our potential to create, sustain, nourish and care for our people, our world and one another. Let us not confuse politicians and politics with prophets and potential dreams realized. “Shaalu shalom Yerushalayim… Let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem” and work for all that it can yet be! Happy 71st Birthday Israel!