Trust in Israel’s future despite challenging present


Fighter jets fly over the Israeli flag on Independence Day celebrations in 1957. The state’s founding a decade earlier was full of fun facts. Photo by Moshe Pridan/Government Press Office

By Rabbi James Bennett

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be,” wrote Robert Browning in his poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” imagining the wisdom of a real 12th century scholar counseling us to recognize the challenges of youth and the possibility of true maturity and growth. 

Seventy-five years ago, on the fifth of Iyar in the Hebrew year 5708, corresponding to May 14, 1948, David Ben Gurion and 36 other visionaries gathered dramatically in Tel Aviv and declared:

“Members of the People’s Council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Yisrael and of the Zionist Movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Yisrael and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Yisrael, to be known as the State of Israel.”

Born of the 2,000-year dream of the Jewish people to return to the land in which the Jewish religion was born and of the necessities and traumas of modern Jewish life, Israel has grown and flourished and developed into a source of great pride for Jews around the world during these 75 years. 

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We celebrate, we rejoice and we take pride in this remarkable accomplishment, filled with a deep and abiding love for the fulfillment of this ancient vision, renewed and flourishing in our lifetimes. The modern state of Israel has become, for most of us, a part of our core values as Jews. We cannot imagine a world without Israel, and we dedicate ourselves to celebrating and supporting Israel, praying for Israel, visiting and getting to know the land and its people. 

As the Psalmist so powerful wrote: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill, may my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, If I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.”

How, then, are we who love Israel, who cannot imagine anything less, who wish to celebrate with unbridled joy an accomplishment that seemed impossible a century ago — 75 years of independence and flourishing of the ancient dream — how are we to feel when so much of the dream seems unfulfilled at this momentous time? 

Consider the vision of the founders, who went on in their Declaration of Independence to write:

“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it 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.”

While some may choose to turn a blind eye to the realities of our day, a reality in which the modern state governed today, controlled by a far-right coalition that is arguably not representative of the majority of the citizens of Israel and certainly not representative of the majority of people who dwell there, we who truly love Israel, both as it is and as it was dreamed to be, cannot deny the truth.

The truth is that almost every commitment in this clause of the Declaration of Independence is either unfulfilled or in grave jeopardy today, in this 75th year of Israel’s existence. To say otherwise is to deny the truth.  

The current governing coalition is not fostering the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants. Nor is the current government basing its policies on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets. Surely, no one can claim that the complete equality of social and political rights of all Israel’s inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex, is being pursued, nor freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture. 

Recent events on the Temple Mount prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Holy Places of all religions are not being protected. 

Some might despair of Israel completely, but to do so would be to give victory to both the enemies of Israel from the outside, and those who have seized power from within. As Jews, we are taught never to despair, and we must certainly never despair of Israel. 

But many of us feel powerless to effect change. Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, recently counseled otherwise:

“We are not powerless. We have the ability to help shape and influence the future values and ideologies of Israel’s citizens. We have the power to lay the foundations for a new and broad social coalition with a different vision for Israel. This coalition needs to be formed, nurtured and equipped with the ideology, language, leadership and vision to recapture the imagination of the majority of Israeli society. The struggle will be slow and difficult, but there is no alternative to long-term change.”

This is the great challenge of Israel’s 75th year.  We must celebrate with enthusiasm while also rededicating ourselves to working as partners with our fellow lovers of Zion, with all who love and share the vision of what Israel was established to be and is still yet to become.

The prophet Micah famously said, “God has told you, O human, what is good, and what God requires of you: Only to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).

May Israel and all who love Israel do justice, love and goodness, and walk with humility in God’s presence, thereby meriting many more celebrations of peace in the Land of Israel and throughout the world. May Israel grow mature, wise and old, for the future best is yet to be.