Lighting the Way to a Strong and Inspiring Israel
In early 1948, Israel’s founders gathered to decide on a national anthem for the new State. Psalm 126, which begins: “When God brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like dreamers,” was suggested as one option, as it describes the return of the Jewish people to their land, emphasizing the young State’s connection to the Bible, ancient Jewish history, and Jewish tradition.
Interpreters suggested that the verse views the return to the Land of Israel as a sudden miracle, like a person waking up from a bad dream to a better reality. Some noticed that the Hebrew root for the word “dream” is also the root of the word “heal” (lachlom-lehachlim). According to these interpreters, the psalm teaches us that the return to the Land of Israel will begin a process of healing and strengthening, following many years of disconnect from the land.
Both interpretations are relevant to the great challenges and opportunities Israeli society faces today.
We just commemorated Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. The fact that the Jewish people established a State only three years after the end of World War II is surely a miracle. At the same time, almost 70 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, we see that building an independent, thriving nation that fulfills the values of the Jewish Prophets as described in Israel’s declaration of independence is an ongoing and complex process, like the gradual healing of a person slowly emerging from weakness.
Sixty-nine years after Israel’s independence, we see that the establishment of the State was not the end of the Jewish People’s journey toward the “Promised Land,” but rather the beginning of a new stage in the journey, which provides us with three insights.
- Our journey is a long one, and patience is a virtue.
- Like any healing process, there are moments of success and progress, but also hardships and challenges. We cannot ignore the latter moments, but we also must not let them lead us into despair. Optimism and perseverance are crucial.
- Like any long healing process, the support of those around us is necessary for success, no less than individual willpower.
Israel’s founders were tasked with building a country with governing institutions, as well as protecting its borders, developing an economy, and absorbing millions of immigrants. Our generation must continue these tasks, while at the same time taking on new and relevant responsibilities to ensure Israel’s future.
During the country’s early years, Reform Judaism had little presence in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), despite the roles of Reform leaders in establishing the State. During those difficult years, the focus was on physical existence and survival. Today, a growing number of Israelis understand that we must also secure Israel’s character and its core values as a Jewish and democratic state. This realization has led thousands of Israelis to seek spiritual homes in Reform communities and work with us to establish new ones across the country. In past generations, the vision of a vibrant Reform congregation in every Israeli town seemed to be a dream; today we are turning this dream into a reality.
For many years, we believed that only profound changes in the relationship between religion and state and the end of discriminatory government attitudes toward non-Orthodox Jews would lead to the flourishing of Reform Judaism in Israel. Today we know that the opposite is true: A flourishing Reform Judaism will lead to freedom of religious practice in Israel, to a strengthening of Israel’s democratic character, and to a reality in which all streams of Judaism are treated with full equality and respect. Reform Judaism has a window of opportunity among Israelis who for the first time see how progressive forms of Judaism can shape the future of the State of Israel.
For many years, Jews around the world planted trees in Israel to “make the desert bloom.” Now we have an historic opportunity to plant new Reform schools, youth groups, tikkun olam (repair the world) projects, and congregations, all of which will further the Zionist task of building the State of Israel – and growing together with it.
A few years after the State was established, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion said that if lights across the country were turned off and only those in kibbutzim were left on, the State would be outlined in light: the kibbutzim were close to the borders, defining and defending them. Similarly, the lights of Reform congregations across the country represent the spiritual borders of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, respecting all its citizens and Jewish communities around the world. As Reform Jews in Israel and in North America, we can strengthen and solidify these borders together. This is the Zionist task of our time: to ensure that Israel is a source of pride and inspiration for us, our children, and generations to come.
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