Today is Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. As one who has dedicated many words, much time and much energy expressing deep concern over certain policies of the government of the State of Israel, it is important to express the other piece of my feelings about Israel loudly and clearly and what better time than Yom Ha’atzmaut to say it.
The creation of the State of Israel is one of the greatest blessings in the history of our people. The Jewish people are immensely safer and richer since the State was founded and we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude and respect to all of those who have given of their energy, their passion, their resources and- in far too many cases- their lives to insure the growth and the security of Israel.
May this Yom Ha’atzmaut bring Israel peace and joy. May we see an end or at least an easing of the internal divisions that divide the state. But,may we also see Israel continuing to strive sincerely and passionately for a shared vision of peace through the region. May this year see a resolution to the conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians with the hope for a settlement which will lead to justice and security for all. May Israel be able to focus on its own growth and strength while Palestinians also gain the blessings of self-determination.
This Yom Ha’atzmaut, I have been thinking about one particular moment from one of my 13 trips to Israel. In 1999, I took a trip that was truly among the most remarkable I have ever taken. It was an interfaith clergy tour in which Rabbis were asked to bring a non-Jewish clergy person with them in order to learn about the possibilities of taking more general Interfaith trips. It was a wonderful experience and in fact in 2000, we did take an Interfaith group from Ann Arbor under the auspices of the Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw County.
As our group of 25 sat at our final dinner, our guide asked us each to say a few words about what the trip had meant to us. I can still remember exactly what I said. I said that coming to Israel makes me feel young for two reasons. First, I felt young because we did things on this trip as on most tours that I don’t normally do: climbing through caves, riding donkeys, singing songs on a tour bus, eating food that I know isn’t good for me and other such things. That is one way being in Israel made me feel young again.
But, that particular trip made me feel particularly young because it gave me a shot of youthful idealism that I so badly needed. For the week that our group had traveled together, Israel had been the place where we had bridged differences, learned from each other, prayed together, laughed together and cried together. That trip gave me hope, a fleeting vision of an idealistic time, one that made me feel young and optimistic again. While I believe I could have felt that sense of hope any place we might have traveled together, I felt that doing so in Israel made it that much more meaningful and that much more memorable.
That brings me to today. The aspect of Israel today that most concerns me (at least as I see it from a distance and I haven’t visited since 2009) is that reading the news from Israel doesn’t make me feel young, I don’t see the spirit, the proverbial gleam in the eye, the joy, the passion of what it means to have a dream and make the dream a reality.
Some of that is natural. Israel is a comparatively young country but it has had to grow up very fast in a difficult region and one can hardly expect the attitude of the country to be as passionate and as idealistic as it once was. But, if I had one additional wish for Israel, it would be that Israel rediscover its youthful passion for the ideals and values on which it was formed. That I feel young when I go to Israel is not as important as it is for Israel to rediscover the joy of youth while still pursuing its mature, adult responsibilities.
May this year be a year of joy and peace and hope for all in Israel and the region.