Published in The Jerusalem Post on February 8, 1998
Three different chairman have resigned this month, one after another, from committee in charge of Israel’s fiftieth anniversary activities. This mess is more than another example of Netanyahu government clumsiness. It’s a metaphor for malaise.
No-one seems to really know why we should bother at all with the jubilee festivities! Most callers this week to a leading radio talk show on this topic were asking: ‘what’s there to celebrate?’.
Looking around at the immediate environment, the public seems to have concluded that it is not in the mood for a party. Renewed conflict with the Palestinians is looming on the horizon, our relations with western countries are strained, Saddam is back, Lebanon is bleeding us, the economy is slumping, tourism is slipping, religious wars between Jews are in full swing, and everyone seems to hate each other. Poor atmospherics for a gala.
Zionist idealism, not to mention aliyah, has faded, and few politicians are willing argue for jubilee expenditures that don’t directly feed into the pockets of citizens. Better to spend the party cash, they say, on fighting unemployment, strengthening law enforcement to battle the drug and prostitution gangs, in support of religious-secular dialogue, and in backing better science education. Or building a new shopping mall with the latest designer outlets, which is what ‘the public’ really wants.
But at fifty, we ought to peer beyond the end of our noses, or past our precious pocketbooks, and take in the bigger picture.
Ask yourself: what is the deeper meaning of Israel’s resurgence? In Yaacov Herzog’s piercing words: “How has this people, a third of whose sons and daughters were led to slaughter only a half-century ago in endless humiliation, in unmitigated cruelty, who were at the nadir of their fortunes, flung to the abyss of a cruel and merciless fate – whence do they rise again, phoenix-like, with force, with vigor, with faith and regain the capital of their eternity, Jerusalem?”
Try, for a moment, to think of Israel, Herzog suggested, as a land “hallowed in history, repository of religion, but burdened by the desolation of millennia — that has sprung to life, its children from every corner of the globe gathering to water its parched soil… People and land united in a unique tapestry in which torment ushered in faith, and which in turn, ushered in achievement… The scar of exile has been healed; the continuity of Jewish statehood restored; Jewish dignity rescued and uplifted”.
Indeed, in the broader perspective, who can deny that our achievement far outweighs setback? We have gone from calamity to revival, and progressed politically, economically, technologically, socially, spiritually too, at a pace that defies norms of conventional assessment.
Israel’s struggle for secure and recognized borders continues, as does our conflict over identity and national purpose, but they are today the battles of an independent people living in its homeland in freedom. And as a result, the entire condition of Jews around the globe has been revitalized – a community no longer the subject of humiliation nor of contempt, but of envy, admiration and even reverential spiritual scrutiny.
* This * is the grand historical perspective that ought accompany us into year 50 and guide our celebrations.
But alas “the people of Israel hearkened not to Moses, because they were short of patience and spirit, and were overly beholden to their everyday hard work” (Exodus 6:9). So much for the soaring vision of independence and Divine association that Moses brought from the burning bush at Sinai to the Jews in Egypt!
Even as they were crossing through the split Red Sea with walls of water miraculously towering above them, says the Midrash Rabba, Shimon and Levi were complaining about the mud that was covering their Gucci sandals.
Regrettably, we Israelis too, seem to have lost the capacity to think in providential, prophetic terms; to discern historical movement, not momentary difficulty; to see the forest, not the trees; to disregard the mud and focus on the magnificent. To know that there truly is what to celebrate.
You’ll tell me, of course, that all this fancy talk rings hollow. That reality on the ground is bleak and depressing. That you simply can’t get the younger generation to buy into such high-flying philosophical reflection. And I say – we must.
The responsibility to re-energize Israeli thinking about our national condition, and to infuse it with a little global, classical Jewish panorama — falls first and foremost to us, the English-speaking olim of this country. We * chose * to come here, still feel * privileged * to live here, still sense the * worthiness * of this incredible Jewish experiment in independence. It is our job to help native Israelis – who often are blinded by the close confines of an intense, introverted and insular Israeli society – grasp the bigger picture.
At fifty, the voice of the grateful, appreciative immigrant should be heard. In support of celebration, of rededication to the cause, of thanks to the One who guides us in our march across history to redemption.