I was recently talking about all of the great books about Israel with one of our long-time congregants. I recalled my favorite book, Israel: An Echo of Eternity by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Written shortly after the Six Day War in 1967, it is a moving portrait of his relationship with Israel that goes beyond Israel as a refuge or safe haven. After reading this book, I began to see how Israel was the embodiment of hope in our Tradition. Despite having no autonomous, secure Jewish state since 70 CE (when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and exiled our people for a second time from the Land of Israel), our people yearned for better times. All the while, they faced Jerusalem when they prayed and believed that when the Messiah would come, everyone would return to the Land of Israel. The Hope that Israel represented kept our people strong. When the Zionist movement evolved, it ought to be no surprise that the National Anthem became Hatikvah – “Our hope is not lost, the hope of 2000 years, to be a free people in our own land, the Land Zion and Jerusalem.”
Our hope is still not lost for Israel, as it celebrates its 63rd year of Independence today, Yom Ha’atzmaut, to be a nation at peace with its neighbors. It is a strong, vibrant democracy, a great ally to America, an innovator in science and technology, and yes, a safe haven for any Jew in crisis.
So, how do we respond to Israel today from an authentic Reform Jewish perspective? Here are words to get us started from Rabbi Heschel in his book mentioned above:
Israel is a personal challenge, a personal religious issue.
It is a call to every one of us as an individual,
a call which one cannot answer vicariously…
The ultimate meaning of the State of Israel
must be seen in terms of the vision of the prophets:
the redemption of all…
The religious duty of the Jew is to participate
in the process of continuous redemption,
in seeing that justice prevails over power,
that awareness of God penetrates human understanding.
This is why I am a Zionist – a political Zionist advocating for a safe, secure, democratic Israel, and a religious Zionist learning and praying about the redemption of our people and living righteous lives.
I have a few other gifts for you this Yom Ha’atzmaut…
First, here is a new, brief video describing Americans involved in the 1948 War of Independence. Please check out this video, The Volunteers: Answering the Call of History, to see the partnership of American Jews and Israelis in the building of the Jewish State. I hope you not only enjoy it, but will be inspired to continue what these volunteers started.
“Appreciating, And Learning To Talk About, Israel” in The New York Jewish Week by Arnold Eisen, Ph.D., Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary (the Conservative movement’s Seminary).
A Message to Diaspora Jews from The Honorable Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel.
“Yom Ha’Atzmaut from America” in eJewishPhilanthropy.com by Rabbi Daniel Allen, Executive Director of ARZA – The Association of Reform Zionists of America.
Wishing you a wonderful day, wishing Israel a festive Israel Independence Day!
שַֽׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרֽוּשָׁלָם יִשְׁלָיוּ אֹֽהֲבָֽיִךְ – Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem; may those who love you prosper. (Psalms 122.6)
Rabbi Fred Greene
This message was sent out to all of the members of Temple Beth Tikvah today…