Published in The Jerusalem Post on April 26, 1998
After a gap of two thousand years, the 50-year-old Third Commonwealth of Israel is now an entrenched fact of contemporary history, backed up by close to six million citizens, nuclear arms, a vibrant democracy and an active world Jewry. Good time to take stock. And indeed, hundreds of foreign journalists from around the world are here to do just that.
Unfortunately, the international press reviews of this jubilee anniversary seem to miss the spiritual, meta-historic significance of Israel’s achievement.
The New York Times and others have conducted thoroughly-researched and expertly-documented surveys of contemporary Israel. These features tend to calculate a balance sheet of our successes and failures – in defense, economy, democracy and peace-making – and pose poignant questions about Israel’s identity and society into the future.
But while it’s valid to apply temporal yardsticks of measurement to Israel at fifty, such evaluations undershoot the deeper challenge: to fathom the processes at work behind the curtain of current affairs; to understand the resurgence of Israel in grand historical terms; to discern the mystic movement, the Divine drama if you will, at play.
It cannot be otherwise. There is nothing global, or even massive, about the State of Israel in political terms. This is a small piece of earth. We Israelis are but a tiny fraction of the human family. In the sweep of history, there have been greater battles, bigger construction and irrigation projects, larger transfers and emigrations of populations, more eminently impressive displays of might.
No, the establishment, survival and advancement of Israel is more than a political or secular event in Jewish, or indeed in global, consciousness. Israel stands as vindication of the spirit; as validation of the tenaciousness of faith; as proof of humanity’s power to overcome.
History knows no parallel to the prophecies of the Bible, which foretold of exile, of the break-up of a people into a thousand pieces across the world, to every culture and civilization — yet destined not to assimilate, but to return.
This is the saga of a metaphysical union spanning centuries between a people, their God, and a land, defying all odds. This is the celebration of a nation who, at the moment of ultimate nadir, of devastating Holocaust, rose from the ashes, armed with little more than conviction and a historical consciousness that promised renewal, to stake claim to their ancestry. This is redemption, Providential consolation.
“In this generation of ideological confusion, of erratic thought, in the press and rush of civilization haunted by doubt, fear and spiritual inadequacy,” wrote the late Yaacov Herzog, “the still small voice of Israel reborn has a significance overreaching the criterion of material capacity, extending beyond the boundaries of geographical dimension and the gradation of international status.”
“Israel represents a vindication of faith and prayer through the ages; it is a symbol of revival, a message of hope, indeed a lasting evidence of the integrity of the spirit”.
Listen to Chaim Weizman at the 22cd Zionist Congress in 1946: “.. (We) stand today six hundred thousand strong, with steady vision and unwavering courage…drawing sustenance, spiritual and material, from a grudging and neglected soil….testimony to the irresistible force which drives our people to become free men and women once again on the land of our forefathers”. Or to put it another way, as did Theodore Herzl: “If you will it, it is no dream”.
This belief in the power of human will, animated by ancient faith, explains much about Israel, even today. It explains why we sometimes stubbornly refuse to recognize the rational calculations of diplomatic cost and benefit — calculations politely impressed on us by well-meaning allies.
It explains why those who consider history only in terms of national politics and international relations underestimate or misjudge us. They fail to understand that Israel is guided by an astral calculus that is not always perceptible, a reckoning that blurs the lines between imagination and reality, between the possible and the feasible.
The other day, I explained it this way to a foreign corespondent friend of mine. It’s not just the Jewish people that have returned here, I said. God is returning too, bit by bit. “The Lord thy God will turn thy captivity…and gather thee from all the nations” (Deuteronomy 30:3). Read not ‘turn thy captivity’ says the Talmud, but rather ‘return Himself’ from captivity. His presence in the Land of Israel, and His protection, grows with every Russian immigrant stepping off the plane.
I wonder whether the journalists and bystanders here to put us, at fifty, on the couch, can factor this analysis into their reportage. And can we, Israelis, can remind ourselves of this prophetic perspective long enough to allow for true celebration?