Monday 23 April 2012

The Greatest Miracle of All

A little more than a week has passed since we celebrated the event which, for thousands of years, was regarded as the biggest miracle in Jewish history.  This was the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea to allow the Children of Israel an escape route from slavery in Egypt.  The festival at the end of Pesach marks this occasion.  There is now a greater a miracle that has manifested itself in Jewish history, and this is the miracle of the modern State of Israel.

Those who believe in a supernatural power and divine intervention feel that this miracle is further evidence to support their beliefs.  Even those who do not believe in this find it difficult to deny that the story of Israel over the past 64 years is as improbable as you can find.  Few betting people would have backed the possibility of a success story on that fateful day in April 1948, when David Ben Gurion declared that the name of the Jewish state would be Israel.  The odds against a successful ending increased dramatically a few hours later when the combined Arab armies declared war on Israel.  Despite this, Israel has developed into a thriving success story of the modern era.  How many of those 6 million who perished in the Nazi gas chambers, could have dreamed what Jewish life would be like in 2012?  The turnaround, even though it has occurred right before the eyes of many people who are still alive to bear witness to this, is almost unbelievable.  For some reason, we have been chosen, amongst all those Jews who have lived throughout the generations, to witness this dream and this miracle.  We are the ones who are living the life that answers many of the prayers of our ancestors before us.

It would probably be easier for me to sit here and write a list of things that are wrong with Israel and her society.  The list is long, and includes a number of fundamental issues that need urgent attention.  This would, however, do a great disservice to the numerous good things which exist here, and which are often overlooked by those who prefer to be the doom mongers.  There are enough of those in the international community who do a great job of heaping criticism on Israel, to the point that even many Jews believe their rhetoric and negativity.  The truth is that there is so much good that can serve to balance out these negative views, only that so little seems to be written about it for public consumption.

It never ceases to amaze me that a small and seemingly insignificant country like Israel can receive so much attention from the international community and media.  Since the first day that Israel came into existence, world attention has been focused on her.  Why is this?  No other country in the world has occupied so much time in UN debates and so many newspaper headlines as Israel has.  The only explanation that can be offered is that Israel somehow occupies an important and/or strategic place in the world.  Perhaps it has something to do with Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East, and the only country that operates a truly free and transparent system of government.  Or it may be because Israel represents a welcome counter-balance to the growth of radical Islam, and is a country that is not ashamed to stand up against its threat.  I have no doubt that Israel's developments in science and technology, including the receipt of numerous Nobel prizes and the invention of some of the world's most well-known systems, has had an influence on the world's regard for Israel.  When it is considered that all of this has been achieved while under constant threat of annihilation, and while forced into developing missile defense sytems and other weaponry to stay alive, the accomplishments are all the more astonishing.

The citizens of Israel are gearing up to celebrate the 64th Independence Day later this week with the usual gusto and zest that characterises these events.  There seems to be a clear understanding by everybody, young and old, of what a miracle we are all living each day that we can live in the modern Jewish state.

The celebrations will be preceded, as always, by the saddest day in the Jewish calendar.  This is the day on which we commemorate those who have died in defense of their homeland, and those who have been killed by terrorists.  We can never forget the important contribution that they have made to this modern miracle, and the suffering that their families and friends have been forced to endure as a result.  It is fitting that their memories will continue to be recalled at national ceremonies around the country, and that they will never be allowed to be forgotten.

Perhaps, the greatest evidence of the fact that the miracle is valued by the younger generation, is the extent to which they are willing to volunteer themselves for military service.  A very high percentage of young people are putting themselves forward to serve in the elite fighting units, which also undertake the most dangerous missions.  Even though there is a growing movement that objects to serving in the IDF, it continues to amaze me how many of Israel's young people serve in the military, and how committed they are to doing so.  One of the most moving stories for me is one of a young man who is wheelchair-bound due to a congenital disorder.  The nature of his illness is such, that the IDF took no time at all to exempt him from military service.  But this is no ordinary young man, and he was determined to serve his country in any way he could, even if his physical condition limited him severely in what he is able to do.  So he applied to the IDF to volunteer in any possible capacity.  My surprise at this act was surpassed only by my surprise at the IDF's response.  Today, he wheels his chair around in his khaki uniform like all others of his age in the service of his country.  The IDF has provided the required transport to allow him to reach his base each day, and ensures that he receives all necessary medical care.

As we celebrate the 64th anniversary of Israel's independence, I try to imagine what my grandparents and great-grandparents would think and feel if they were here to witness this.  The scene would surely bring tears to their eyes.  Out of all the worthy people who have lived throughout Jewish history, it is little me who has the merit to live the dream.  It is my prayer that we can continue to respect and value this miracle, despite the best efforts of the international community.  The last 64 years is evidence that even these evil forces can be overcome.

May the State of Israel continue to grow and flourish in all respects, and may we merit to see the miracle of peace added to the abundance of dreams that we have already realised.

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