Thursday, May 08, 2008

The next 60 years

Israel is in a somber mood as we mark Remembrance Day for the nation's 22,437 fallen fighters. Also in our thoughts are the 1,634 men, women and children murdered by terrorists - most of them, paradoxically, since the 1993 Oslo Accord.

Last night we stood in homage, and we stand again this morning, as the wail of the siren sent out its piercing cry. For 24 hours Israel will be riveted by the narratives broadcast on television and radio about the lives cut short by war. Then, as darkness falls Wednesday night, Yom Ha'atzma'ut celebrations will commence.

The sudden emotional switch doesn't come easy, yet it reinforces the truth that freedom comes at a price.

This Independence Day finds some of us in a funk. The prime minister is under intense police scrutiny. Faith in the basic decency of the men and women who lead the nation has waned. The political system has been irresponsibly undermined by elected officials, judges, holy men and the media. Some in the national-religious community still feel alienated by the trauma of disengagement.

AND YET a degree of perspective is in order. From 70 CE, when most Jews were exiled, until 1948, when Jewish sovereignty was regained, this land remained at the epicenter of Jewish aspirations. Absent the collective dream of a return to Zion, the Jewish people would have long ago disappeared from history. And, by the grace of God, we have returned!

The process of state-building remains incomplete - but look how far we've come. The Jewish population in 1948 was 650,000; today it's 6 million. In its first 44 months, while practically bankrupt, Israel absorbed 700,000 Jews. In just 30 years, a million Jews from the former Soviet Union were absorbed. And in the past six years Nefesh B'Nefesh has brought 15,000 olim from affluent countries to Israel.

In 1948 there were two universities, today there are eight. Hebrew is now spoken by millions. In transportation, education, tourism, industry and public health, Israel's progress has been phenomenal. Per capita, our GDP places us in the top tier of nations.

Israel is now the world capital of Torah-learning, at the same time as it leads in hi-tech. We're even producing internationally award-winning cinema.

None of this is to minimize the challenges ahead. With the self-sacrificing founders gone, the way we choose tomorrow's leaders needs reforming. We're divided over how to define our Jewishness. Our non-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox rabbinical courts generate more dissonance than spirituality. They must be replaced by a system that joyfully promotes Judaism. The disparity between rich and poor must be narrowed. Israel's Arab citizens must share fully in the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship, national service included.

And plainly, the quality of our lives will not improve until we learn to treat each other with greater civility.

SIXTY YEARS on, Israel is a regional power, yet still not at peace with all its Arab neighbors. The fight against terrorism demands unrelenting vigilance. Sderot and other southern communities are under intermittent bombardment from the Gaza Strip.

Hizbullah beats the drums of war, while Bashar Assad's intentions remain enigmatic. The greatest strategic threat comes from the fanatical Iranian regime, which threatens to wipe Israel off the map even as it dementedly denies the Holocaust.

The Palestinians mark our achievement of sovereignty as their Nakba, or catastrophe. Mahmoud Abbas has yet to prepare his people for reconciliation.

Sixty years after the Palestinian Arabs first rejected a two-state solution, they appear little closer to accepting a compromise that most Israelis could live with. As Israeli officials speak of "considerable progress" in the post-Annapolis negotiations involving, perhaps, the uprooting of 60,000 Jews from Judea and Samaria and exit from parts of east Jerusalem, the Palestinians adhere to their demand for an Israeli pullback to the narrow boundaries of the 1949 Armistice Lines. They have not abandoned their demand for a "right of return," which would spell the demise of the Jewish state.

That the Jewish people have sovereignty and the chance to enjoy a civilizational renascence in this land after a millennium in exile is - quite literally - a miracle. May God shine His countenance upon us and navigate us safely through the next 60 years, and beyond.

No comments:

My Archive