By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Being critical of Israeli government policies seems essential to those who fear that complacency with the status quo may bring the country to ruin. However, at no time must this obscure the fact that Israel’s very existence is a miracle and that those of us privileged to live here are witnesses to history in the making.
Israel’s continued development and growth be it in terms of population – over eight million of whom more than six million are Jews – or in terms of scientific, technological and economic progress is fantastic. Though I lack the words to describe it I sense it every day and immensely grateful for what I see and experience. But I’m particularly conscious of it today, Israel’s Independence Day, when many of the country’s achievements are justifiably celebrated.
Despite its wars and continued terrorist attacks Israel is an oasis of calm, stability and prosperity in the region. It’s a marvelous place in a very bad neighbourhood.
Its culture is rich and varied. Not only are those who live here exposed to what’s happening in the rest of the world, but the creativity of Israel’s own writers, musicians and artists is remarkable. Some of it is nowadays also noted abroad.
Notwithstanding the apparent political dominance of ultra-Orthodoxy a special kind of Judaism is also emerging here. It takes from all streams but resembles none. Though many Israelis describe themselves as secular this doesn’t preclude them from living in the traditional Jewish year and in one way or another – at times unconventionally – celebrate Sabbaths and Festivals.
This new kind of Judaism transcends the artificial religious-secular divide that modernity had imposed on us in the Diaspora. Nowadays, for example, popular songs are set to the words of the Psalms and to traditional liturgical poems, and despite the intrusion of American television English, the very use of the Hebrew language reflects millennia of Jewish experience and wisdom fused with the challenges of the 21st century.
Israeli democracy is vibrant even as many of those elected to office are too preoccupied with their own status and too imprisoned by outdated ideologies. That’s true of Israeli politicians and, by all accounts, in much greater measure of their Palestinian counterparts. Ironically, those entrusted with the task of making peace are its obstacles.
As long as Palestinian leaders continue to pontificate about throwing the Jews into the sea and ally themselves with reactionary forces in Iran and elsewhere, and as long as Israeli leaders see themselves as entrusted to recreate biblical conquests, peace will elude us and what has already been achieved may be destroyed forever.
On the other hand, peace would enable Israel’s neighbours to greatly benefit from its achievements. In addition to the Palestinian state, Jordan and Egypt could flourish as a result, and Saudi Arabia with the Gulf States could secure their future through close cooperation with the Jewish state. Peace with the Palestinians spells not only further progress for Israel and its neighbours but a more stable Middle East and beyond.
But even if this ideal cannot be realized yet, the very existence of Israel – warts and all, terrorism and all, anti-Semitism in the guise of opposition to Israel and all – is a blessing. In the words of a popular Israeli song: We don’t have any other country. That’s why I’m among those who cherish it every day here and celebrate it especially this day.
Jerusalem 23.4.15 (Israel Independence Day)