Celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut: Being led by a vision
The joys and challenges, vitality and anxiety, successes and disappointments of contemporary Jewish life rest on the achievements of the past century, particularly the building of a vibrant Jewish diaspora community in North America, the tragedy of the Shoah, and, above all, the establishment of a national state for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. Although the world in which we live is still unpredictable and dangerous for all people, including the Jewish people, we need to acknowledge our people’s success and the challenges such success entails. For the first time in almost 2,000 years, Jews have power and the resources to put into practice the high ideals that have sustained us over the long centuries of dispersion. Our present generations have the opportunity to prove to themselves and the world that we can implement the vision we have chosen for ourselves.
Israel, like our country, the United States, is founded on a vision—that the political institutions people establish to govern themselves need to support and enhance the liberty of all members of the community. For both nations, their Declarations of Independence are essentially mission statements. As inspiring as they may be, they are also a yardstick by which we can judge ourselves and also be judged by others.
To be reminded of Israel’s hope for itself, I placed the reading of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in the heart of the Yom Ha’atzmaut service I compiled for the residents of Lions Gate. Reading it, we recall the historical ties Jews have to the Land of Israel, the historical circumstances which led to the founding of the State of Israel, and the vision of what that state should be in the eyes of the founding generations. We are both inspired and challenged.
In Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the authors claim that the principle of national self-determination, the foundational principle that led to the establishment of so many national states after the collapse of the colonial empires throughout the 20th century, applies to the Jewish people as well. They wrote that it “is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.” If they ended the statement there, then all that one should expect from the new country is that it would like every other nation-state.
But they had a deeper vision. For them, the new State of Israel was to be dedicated to a higher purpose. After declaring that the State of Israel will be open to Jews dispersed all over the world, they said the new state “…will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and 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 to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
This is the vision that inspired the small group of Jewish leaders assembled in Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948 to declare the birth of the State of Israel. Although much has been accomplished, this vision still points to a better future. In challenging times it holds forth the promise which motivates all those whose lives are entwined with State of Israel to continue the effort to make this dream of Israel real.
The prophets of Israel, both the ancient seers and modern visionaries, offer us inspiring goals. The sages of Israel, however, remind us it is often a long and arduous journey to reach them. The State of Israel is a work-in-progress. The words of the 2nd century sage still ring true that we are not required to complete the task, all that we need to do is to continue working (Rabbi Tarfon, Pirke Avot 2:21). Or in other words, without the vision to guide us, we work in vain.
As we mark another milestone in the journey of the Jewish people, may we never lose hope. As Theodor Herzl declared, “If you will it, then it is no dream.”