June 1, 2013
“When I see the name of Israel high in print, the fences crumble in my flesh; I sink deep in a Western chair and rest my soul. I look the stranger clear to the blue depth of his unclouded eye; I say my name aloud, for the first time, unconsciously.”
So wrote the American Jewish poet Karl Shapiro, expressing the deep sense of pride and security that American and World Jewry felt once the State of Israel was established in May of 1948. “Established?”, even more, “re-established,” since the Jewish spiritual, cultural and psychological bond to the land and Jewish autonomy on it goes back 3,000 years.
In the twentieth century, it was modern Zionism, Britain’s Balfour Declaration and the United Nations that secured the Jewish claim to part of Palestine. The Jewish people built up the land and, as the early Zionist motto went, were built up by it.
Had a State of Israel existed even a decade earlier, the Holocaust may never have happened. There would have been six million more Jews who had a place to go when Europe wanted them out and too many other countries refused to welcome them. Isolationism and Xenophobia in the West meant that potential Jewish refugees were shot, gassed and burned in Europe, rather than welcomed to lands of freedom. Alive they could have contributed so much to the United States and other countries; dead they are a reminder of human indifference and the squandering of freedom’s hope and potential.
Today, sixty-five years after statehood, Israel is an economic and cultural powerhouse in the Middle East and a model of what that region of the world could become if peace were allowed to bloom.
Both the Israelis and the Palestinians suffer because their leaders aren’t yet courageous or wise enough to give peace a chance, because fear trumps hope and they prefer to delay inevitable compromises.
This is the unrealized dream thus far. There is a State of Israel and for that we rejoice, and yet, our celebration cannot be complete until, in the words of its Declaration of Independence, “the State of Israel….will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants (and) will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets…”
May we all work together to hasten that day.
Rabbi Arnie Rachlis