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Israel at 69 (May 2017)

Tuesday was the 6th of Iyyar on the Hebrew calendar, which is Israel Independence Day, or “Yom Ha’atzmaut.”  It was the State of Israel’s 69th birthday. While this should be a time to celebrate and rejoice, the topic of Israel, and by association the Palestinians, the settlements and related issues have all become the focus of controversy, contention and disagreement in the American Jewish community.


David Harris, the Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, wrote an insightful piece for the occasion in the Huffington Post.  Harris gives some history, describes some of the struggles, challenges, and achievements of the young state, and articulates the importance and centrality of Israel to the Jewish People. 


Harris also describes what I believe is at the heart of the ongoing debate in the American Jewish community over Israel,  


“[t]here is the tricky and underappreciated issue of the potential clash between the messy realities of statehood and, in this case, the ideals and faith of a people. It is one thing for a people to live their religion as a minority; it is quite another to exercise sovereignty as the majority population while remaining true to one’s ethical standards. Inevitably, tension will arise between a people’s spiritual or moral self-definition and the exigencies of statecraft, between the highest concepts of human nature and the daily realities of individuals in decision-making positions wielding power and balancing a variety of competing interests.”


Recent trends in policy decisions and proposals do indeed highlight the clash between the ideal and the real in Israel, and the country’s struggle to remain true to its ethical standards.  They indicate an alarming tendency among some of Israel’s decision makers away from democracy.  Last week I attended a gathering of Boston-area rabbis who are concerned about these trends and about what direction Israel is heading.  We want an Israel that is both Jewish and democratic, one that does not discriminate against its non-Jewish citizens and that does not try to stifle dissenting voices. Let us hope that the more reasonable and moderate voices in the Israeli government prevail!


Even with these concerns in mind, Israel’s ability not only to exist but to thrive in the face of unbelievable challenges and threats is a remarkable achievement, and her Independence Day is a cause for celebration.  As Harris asserts, “the story of Israel is the wondrous realization of a 3,500-year link among a land, a faith, a language, a people, and a vision. It is an unparalleled story of tenacity and determination, of courage and renewal. And it is ultimately a metaphor for the triumph of enduring hope over the temptation of despair.”  So, Happy 69th Birthday Israel!

Fri, July 12 2024 6 Tammuz 5784