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A Light unto the Nations

Sunrise over Jerusalem

April 30, 2017

Dear Friend of Israel,

Monday at sundown Israel begins celebrating her 69th birthday with observance of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. On this day Israelis recall the momentous day in 1948 when Jewish leaders gathered at the Tel Aviv Museum to declare the establishment of the modern state of Israel.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence, read that day by Israel’s founding father and first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, promises that the Jewish state “will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice, and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets.” Israel will “extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples … and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people.”

The first of these promises has been realized. Israel is the lone democracy in the Middle East, a beacon of hope and freedom not just for the region, but for the entire world.

While Israel has fulfilled the second promise by extending her hand in peace to her neighbors time and again, she has continually been rebuffed. What a tragedy that the vast majority of Arab and Muslim nations have never accepted Israel’s offer of peaceful cooperation. Despite her efforts at peace, Israel has repeatedly had to fight for her life.

It is appropriate, then, that one day prior to Israel Independence Day Israel observes Yom HaZikaron, Israel Memorial Day. On this solemn day, Israel remembers the soldiers who have been killed during Israel’s many wars, and all Israelis who have died in the ongoing – and seemingly never-ending – terrorist campaign against the Israeli people.

As we rejoice at Israel’s birth, Israel Memorial Day reminds us that Israel’s independence has been bought at a high price – a price paid in Jewish blood. And the sobering truth is that threats to Israel’s existence are as real today as they have ever been.

In her struggle for peace and security, Israel does indeed face formidable challenges. But I am reminded of the words of Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel between 1969 and 1974, who said, “Zionism and pessimism are not compatible.”

So, let us take heart, and remember that the God who watches over Israel “will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). Let us continue to lift up Israel in our prayers. And let us celebrate the fact that, despite her challenges, the state of Israel still acts as a “light unto the nations” – a light that shines even brighter surrounded, as it is, by countries living under the darkness of tyranny.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

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