This Wednesday Israel will commemorate its 72nd Independence Day. Not only for the people of Israel is it a day of great celebration and introspection. And at a time when American Jewry appears to be waning in its support for Israel, we might well ask: “Why should we care so much about Israel?”
Yes, Israel represents, not only a homeland to almost half of the world’s Jews, and a true refuge to which many of these people have fled. But the truth is that for most of us, we feel quite secure as American Jews, and have little sense of Israel being a place of refuge for ourselves. So why should we care so much about Israel?
The answer has to do with the moral value system that we Jews have cherished throughout history. It has to do with the quest for justice speaking with a Hebrew accent. It has to do with those words of Israel’s national anthem: “To be a free and independent people in our own land.” A historic vision, passed from generation to generation, of a time when Jews would again have the independence and freedom to live a value system of their own choosing, rather than having an identity imposed upon them. Israel is about writing a new and different chapter in Jewish history: one that deals not with what they did to the Jews. Rather, modern day Israel is a story of what Jews did for themselves and how it has impacted upon the rest of the world.
Why should we care about Israel? Because for more than 3,000 years the land of Israel has been the heart, the soul, and the foundation of the Jewish people; the land from which our traditions, values and ideals originated. It was from Israel that new concepts entered the thinking and visions of humanity: ideas such as freedom, opportunity, change, and hope. It was from Israel that the prophet Micah taught: “What is it that the Lord seeks of thee? Only to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before your God.” And also from there that the prophet Jeremiah preached that “I will gather the people from the land of exile, and I will bring them back to this place.”
For sure, Israel has far to go in realizing the ideals that it has for itself. But make no mistake about it: In the midst of the moral jungle that is the Middle East, Israel is about the striving for Jewish ethics and Jewish ingenuity. Yes, a tiny country that has become a global giant in the fields of medicine, technology, agriculture, etc.
I believe that we Jews walk taller today than at any time in history, not only because we have “made it” in this country, and not only because there is an independent Israel but we walk taller because we know of Israel’s incredible contributions to the well-being of our world. We know that at long last we are a people writing our own history and shaping our own future.
When we speak of Israel, let us refer to “us” and not “them.” For we all have a stake in Israel to continue as a homeland for the Jewish people. May it be that from Israel there will always come forth a message of hope and blessing for our world. Yes, because of Israel, we are living at a time only prayed for, and dreamt of, by our ancestors.
I hope you will join us tonight at our Shabbat service as we celebrate all that Israel represents to us and to Jewish people everywhere.