Traveling to Israel today, marveling at Tel Aviv’s skyscrapers and the holiness of the Kotel in Jerusalem, it’s incredibly easy to forget that as much as the Jewish state is a reality in today’s Middle East, its future — until relatively recently — has never been secure.
When David Ben-Gurion declared the country’s independence 70 years ago, the fledgling Jewish state was thousands of years removed from the society practically wiped out by the Romans and even further removed from the united monarchy of Kings David and Solomon. In 1948, much like David before he became king, Israel was the pipsqueak staring down the Goliath of Arab armies unified against it. Miraculously, it survived — as it did in 1967, and again in 1973.
Today, in this series of weeks bookended by Yom Ha’atzmaut — celebrated in Israel and throughout Philadelphia last week — and the 70th anniversary of Ben-Gurion’s declaration on the English calendar, May 14, the Jewish state is a strong and prosperous first-world nation. It leads the world in cyber-technology, it is a beacon of democracy in a region riddled with human rights violations, and its open-armed embrace of Jewish immigrants from anywhere in the world makes it a safe haven and an insurance policy against the scourge of anti-Semitism.
That is why the Jewish Exponent has dedicated this week’s issue to a celebration of Israel and its accomplishments, and the people — whether native-born, immigrant or remaining in the Diaspora — without whom the Jewish “experiment” in the Holy Land would not be possible. In their stories are reflections of a small sliver of the millennia-long yearning among Jews to return home and the inspiring resolutions of a people determined to succeed even when it seems that an entire world is allied against them. We hope that in this milestone year, if you haven’t already, you similarly consider making a trip there or contributing to any number of organizations that strengthen the land and its people.
By no means is Israel perfect. The debates that existed in the Jewish community prior to its modern-day founding continue to challenge us today with regard to the state’s relationship with Judaism, with its neighbors and with the Diaspora. But because Israel itself, despite the shortcomings inherent in any modern state, represents the collective aspirations of the entire Jewish people, it is impossible as a member of the Jewish community to not feel love for this very tiny nation.
The Jewish connection to Israel is elemental. But we know that here in Philadelphia, our community’s connection to the Jewish state is one of the strongest Diaspora relationships around. In Netivot and Sdot Negev, we in the City of Brotherly Love have helped protect one of the most vulnerable regions in Israel; in Tel Aviv and Israel’s economic core, we’ve funded and partnered with companies exploring the cutting edge in the life sciences and environmental technologies; in Jerusalem, we’ve sent our own sons and daughters to make new homes for themselves.
We know that as much as Israel is a miracle unto itself, its survival is very much a Jewish miracle, encapsulating the prayers and dreams of Jewish men, women and children in generations past, living today and yet to be born. Please join us in wishing Israel a very happy birthday.