As Israel approaches its 64th birthday this Thursday, we who live in the diaspora ought to give serious thought to what that actually means for us.
We conclude each Passover seder by proclaiming “Next year in Jerusalem.” many of us may even sing those words at birthday celebrations this week honoring the Jewish state. We say them and we sing them – but do we mean them? Do we intend to make aliyah – to disrupt our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, and move to a land far away?
Do we even know how to read Hebrew, much less understand it, and speak it?
Here is a fact of diaspora life in the United States: Most Jews here have never set foot in Israel and have no interest in doing so. They would r ather be in Tenerife than Tel Aviv. If we here do not even want to visit Israel, why would we want to live there? And if that is the case, how can we say, with a straight face, “Next year in Jerusalem,” which really means, “Next year in the Land of Israel”?
That raises another question: Do we support the State of Israel, or the Land of Israel? There is a huge difference between the two. The State of Israel is an internationally recognized piece of real estate, the borders of which were legitimized by an armistice agreement signed in 1949. The Land of Israel includes nearly all the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. The so-called “west bank” is in the Land of Israel, but not in the State of Israel – at least not as defined by international law.
For us, the question is whether we support the State of Israel annexing parts, or all, of the Land of Israel, with all that implies politically, strategicallly, and morally.
There are legitimate security reasons for the State to make the Land its own. Anyone who thinks differently needs to be honest with himself or herself.
There also are legitimate historical and, yes, biblical reasons for doing so.
The Hatikvah, the State of Israel’s national anthem -which is also the unofficial anthem of the People Israel – talks about “the hope of 2,000 years,” meaning a return to the land that once was our own. That hope was not for Haifa, or Caesarea, or even Eilat. It was for Jerusalem – east Jerusalem, the “old city of Jerusalem,” the City of David Jerusalem. It was for Hebron, and Shechem (Nablus), and Bethlehem, and all those other places on the “wrong” side of the “Green Line,” in what many around the world call “Palestine.”
We sing the Hatikvah with gusto and sometimes even with tears in our eyes, but do we mean what we sing? Do we want to fulfill “the hope of 2,000 years to be a free people in our own land”? Do we even understand what that means?
When we sing the Hatikvah, do we even contemplate the possibility that the words of the song suggest that we support second-class status (or worse) for Christians and Muslims? Is that, in fact, what the song suggests, or are its critics misreading it – and why should we care one way or the other? That, too, deserves our contemplation.
Here is yet another point to consider: If we give money to the Jewish state, do we have a right to put in our two cents’ worth of advice when it comes to matters of its securty and defense? Does the fact that neither we nor our children nor grandchildren will have to live with the consequences of our advice – or die because of it – have any relevance to whether we should be giving that advice?
Many of us do not like the religious bent of the State. We threaten to withhold funds unless this policy is reversed or that policy is not implemented. So another point to contemplate: Why do we not withhold the funds we give to the very organizations here that actively promote the policies we find so egregious over there?
We believe in the State of Israel – or we should. We have believed in the State of Israel ever since that Friday afternoon in 1948, on the second floor of a Tel Aviv museum building, when a short man with an unkempt head of white hair seemingly standing upright, announced to the world that the Jewish people had returned home.
We – the Jewish people collectively, not we individually and not we in the diaspora – had retrurned home. We had risen from the ashes into which history sought to bury us. We had tossed off the sackcloth and ashes of victims and donned the clothing of pride, accomplishment, and determination. Never again would a Jew need to hide his or her head, or feel abandoned to some horrible fate.
For 64 years we have danced horas, sung songs, listened to beautiful speeches, watched Israel Day parades march by, all the while avoiding the paradox we created – believing in a state we care to know nothing about, and mouthing words of promise we have no desire to fulfill.
It is time for us to put sincerity into our tears and meaning to our words.
Israel is here, and here Israel must stay. After 64 years, it is time for us in the diaspora to understand why Israel’s continued existence is so important to our own.