April 23, 2015
Dear Friend of Israel,
When I read passages such as Amos 9:14-15 – "’I will bring my people Israel back from exile. They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them’" – I can’t help but think of the thriving land of Israel I am blessed to call home today.
We celebrate that land today on Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. On this day, we remember the words penned by the Jewish leaders who gathered in Tel Aviv to announce the birth of the Jewish state. Israel, they declared, "will be open to the immigration of Jews from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice, and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets." Further, it would "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."
Many of these words have come to fruition. While Israel is a Jewish state, it is a nation where freedom of religion is written into law and respected in practice. It is a democratic, multi-ethnic state where differences are addressed through an orderly – though sometimes rambunctious – political process. It is a state whose founding citizens – echoing the words of the prophet Amos quoted above, and following the call of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, to "make the desert bloom” – transformed barren desert into productive farmland. It is a state that since its founding has been seeking peace and cooperation with its neighbors.
Sadly, that dream has not yet been achieved. What a tragedy it is that so many of Israel’s Arab and Muslim neighbors have never accepted her offer of "establishing bonds of cooperation and mutual help." Most of those neighbors still do not even recognize Israel’s existence; the Jewish state currently has full diplomatic relations only with Jordan and Egypt, but with the great upheaval going on in the Middle East, even those relations are tenuous. Despite her efforts at peace, Israel has repeatedly had to fight to secure the independence she so boldly asserted in 1948.
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 killed during her many wars, and all Israelis who have died in the ongoing and seemingly never-ending terrorist campaign against the Israeli people. More than most nations, Israel knows all too well the truth of the old adage that "freedom is not free."
In a world like this, where stereotypes and misinformation about Israel abound, and where the terrorist threat against the Jewish state and Jewish people continues, it would be easy for those who love Israel and the values she represents – values like democracy, liberty, and the rule of law – to lose heart. But those of us who see the birth of the modern state of Israel as a miracle – who recognize not just human courage, strength, and ingenuity in Israel’s founding, but also the hand of God at work – know better than to lose heart. Despite numerous attempts to destroy them, the Jewish people have survived for millennia; the Jewish state, I firmly believe, will as well. Israel, with the realism born of 67 years of struggle and challenge, will, with God’s blessing, continue to live. Perhaps David Ben-Gurion said it best: “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.” And, indeed, we do.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President