Yom Ha’Atzmaut Sameach!
In his book Old New Land, Theodore Herzl famously wrote, “Im Tirtzu, Ein Zo Agadah – If you will it, it is no dream!” Growing up at Jewish summer camp, I remember singing and dancing to these words set to music by Debbie Friedman. Looking back, this experience at camp and the sentiment of Herzl’s words proved to be foundational for my love of Israel and my Jewish identity. On this Yom Ha’Atzmaut, as we celebrate Israel’s independence from the safety of our homes, I am reminded just how powerful these words truly are.
Herzl’s original 1902 publication of Old New Land was written in German under the title Altneulandt, which was translated into Hebrew as “Tel Aviv”. Nine years later, the city of Tel Aviv was founded and named after Herzl’s book! Though Herzl died before the establishment of the Modern State of Israel, he is without a doubt one of the primary thought leaders that paved the way. While Old New Land brings with it the famous saying Im Tirtzu, we should celebrate it as a work ahead of its time. Herzl outlines his vision for the Jewish homeland to be not only a place for Jews but an open society welcoming of all peoples:
“It is founded on the ideas which are a common product of all civilized nations … It would be immoral if we would exclude anyone, whatever his origin, his descent, or his religion, from participating in our achievements. For we stand on the shoulders of other civilized peoples … What we own we owe to the preparatory work of other peoples. Therefore, we have to repay our debt. There is only one way to do it, the highest tolerance. Our motto must, therefore be, now and ever: ‘Man, you are my brother.’”
It is important to note how radical this statement truly was, especially given the context in which it is written. Herzl believed that one of the primary reasons the establishment of Israel was necessary was due to an alarming level of Anti-Semitism in the world. In 1902, it was all but ludicrous to imagine that the Jewish people would be able to amass enough influence to gain sovereignty of their own nation. Furthermore, even if it was possible, it would seem likely that society remained insular as to protect the Jewish people from hatred. Though Herzl puts forward a dream for a land built on precisely the opposite idea; a land for all peoples!
Nearly fifty years later, just before Shabbat on May 14th, 1948, David Ben Gurion along with a group prominent Jewish leaders met in a house on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv to proclaim Israel’s independence and national sovereignty. In the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, Ben Gurion read these powerful words:
“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the ingathering of the exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice, peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful of the Charter of the United Nations…” (Full Text)
Herzl’s dream was realized. A Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel was established with the values of equality, justice and freedom! A land that continues to bless our people and our world with innovation, spirituality, and unity of humanity. On this Yom Ha’atzmaut, may we smile upon our homeland and may God bless Israel with security and peace! Though we are not able to join together in person this year, let us each sing out the words of Moshe Ben Ari:
Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu
Aleinu V’al Kol Ha’Olam
Peace will yet come upon us and upon everyone! Peace upon us and upon all the world!
 Zion & the Jewish National Idea’, in Zionism Reconsidered, Macmillan, 1970 PB, p.185