Sunday 13 May 2018

Reflecting on Israel at 70

As the festivities of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Independence die away, there is the inevitable return to the reality of everyday living.  Each of us returns to our daily chores of working, studying and taking care of our usual activities.  The threatening protesters are gathered once again on the Gaza border as before.  Iran still continues to threaten to annihilate Israel.  The usual attacks, both verbal and physical are again being perpetrated.  All continues as it was, and little changes.

And yet, this is the beauty of the reality.  Unlike a birthday when the special day lasts only 24 hours until next year at the same time, the celebration of 70 years of independence continues even after the festivities are gone and forgotten.  Because every day in Israel is a celebration of independence.  The reality of the daily grind of life in an independent country is a part of the success.  Not only that, but the 70 years becomes 70 years and a day, and another day, building steadily each moment with greater and greater independence and confidence.

This seems a good moment to reflect, not only on the past and the present, but also upon where things are leading in the future.  To consider that 70 years have not only brought massive growth, development and progress in Israel, but have also allowed for the rebuilding of a nation.  The population has grown from a little more than 800 thousand to almost 9 million in a short 70 years.  The country's infrastructure and economy has grown along with the population to support it, and it has been able to absorb and integrate the large numbers of Jews who have immigrated to Israel over the years.  This is a huge achievement, unrivalled in modern times.  In addition, these 70 years have brought Jewish growth and pride even outside of Israel.  The Jewish people are experiencing one of the greatest periods in Jewish learning in history, something that could not have been dreamt of 70 years ago.  All that Israel stands for and has achieved reaches every corner of the Jewish world, and the non-Jewish world.

The miracle of the survival of Israel against the odds, and against the will of the surrounding Arab countries and their armies has been recounted numerous times and is well documented.  Somehow, it seems that the enormity of this miracle can never be sufficiently emphasized.  There is no logic to explain how it is that the Israelis and Jews still have their state after so many attempts to wipe it off the map.  And this has not been only survival, the 70 years have been enormously productive in terms of the growth, development and ingenuity that have been brought to the state and the wider world.  So many technological advances have come out of Israel that have also made a huge contribution to people around the world.  These have come in so many different fields, including computing, telecommunications, medical, agriculture and many others.  So many Israeli inventions are incorporated into products that are used around the world as a matter of course.  Undoubtedly, one of Israel's greatest inventions has been the Iron Dome anti-missile system.  Not only is this a great military development in its own right, it has afforded Israel the protection that it needs to continue to build and innovate in safety.

The routine in Israel has proved to be part of the joy and success.  Whether it be the routine of another attack to take out weapons that threaten the safety of the state, or whether it be the routine of another Shabbat with the regular smells of chicken soup and the sight of white shirts.  There is also the routine of competing on the world stage in the blue and white in sporting and cultural events, and in showing presence and contribution in the international community in general.

The daily grind that we see in the Jewish state today would have been inconceivable to so many Jews who were sent to their deaths in the years that preceded the founding of the state.  And while the obvious fact that all young Israelis will be called to serve in the military to defend the state is just part of the daily routine, it remains a source of wonder and pride to so many who experienced being a Jew in a world without a Jewish army.  We think about so many who were not spared to see this routine, and who would have rejoiced in it.

Anti-Semitism is again on the rise in the most dramatic fashion.  It is well documented and accepted that Europe is now a hotbed of anti-Semitic activity.  The number of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe continues to rise each year, and Jews living there are feeling more at risk than ever before in the last 70 years.  The same is true of the USA where anti-Semitic sentiment is dramatically on the rise.  Shining through all of this is the fight by the Jewish state in defence of Jews around the world.

We feel comfort and security in the routine that Israel has developed.  Events are great to celebrate, but the greatest celebration is the return to the status quo.  The new status quo that has only become possible for Jews as a result of the founding of the Jewish state.  And despite all the threats against Israel, against Israelis and against Jews, the routine of Israel incorporates the defence of Jews and Jewish values around the world.  This gives much to celebrate.

As we look forward to the next 70 years, it seems that it will be difficult to rival the achievements of the last 70 years.  The development from almost zero seems astonishing due to the low starting point and lack of resources and support.  And yet, the achievements are clear for all to see.  This provides a huge incentive to achieve similar greatness in the years to come, this time starting from a much higher level.  The routine in Israel is encouraging this, and providing the platform to continue these phenomenal achievements.

Am Yisrael Chai.