On May 15th 1948 a certain national myth became a reality. Though Jews weren’t the only landless people to walk the earth at the time, it was an exceedingly rare occurrence for the remains of an ossified nation to rise anew, grow flesh and assume its place – after a 2,000-year absence – among the family of nations.
Yet this is the story of modern Israel. What was once little more than a hushed whisper heard inside ghetto walls across Europe had become the foundation for Jewish liberty; what was once the last desperate grasp at consolation while on the way to death at the hands of Torquemada’s inquisitors or Hitler’s henchmen had become a documented fact.
Never again would the most persecuted people in the annals of human history have to outsource their destiny to the goodwill of others.
Many a scholar has contended that the Holocaust taught us the need to learn and then internalize tolerance by one towards all. This grand noble sentiment however misses a finer yet altogether more pertinent point: the need for Jewish power to manage the Jewish people’s own affairs.
Too many times at too high a cost were our ancestors on the brutal receiving end of history.
Since 1948 many a good historian has asserted that the rebirth of Israel is a natural outcome of the horrors inflicted upon the Jewish people in Europe. After all, how many people were banging on the gates to Palestine before 1933? Little more than a handful of Utopian Eastern European dreamers, in fact.
Yet, such analysis, while superficially appealing, is internally inconsistent. How could have the physical eradication of over 6,000,000 men, women and children – not to mention the deep and wide trauma sustained by the survivors of the Final Solution – be construed as a catalyst for statehood?
While the litany of cruelty that the Jews have endured and witnessed over the last twenty centuries is undeniably unique in its sustained ferocity, the manner in which Israel became a state is not. The midwives who bring free nations into the world are and have always been violence and death.
In Israel’s case, it is estimated that 2,000 people were killed and 4,000 wounded between December 1947 and March 1948 alone. The transformation of Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones into the Start Up Nation we are blessed to live in today has come with a terribly high price tag: close to 24,000 soldiers and police officers have given their lives in the ongoing fight for the right to exist.
No, Israel wasn’t a gift given to the Jews by the guilt-ridden but rather the triumph of indomitable Jewish will.
Beginning yesterday evening Israel embarked on its annual commemoration of those men and women on whose broad shoulders we stand today. And what breathtaking vistas have they bequeathed unto their progeny to gaze out upon: the pale-pink bricks of the Western Wall as they reflect the light of a glorious Jerusalem sunset; the majestic rolling dunes of the Negev Desert; the awe inspiring mountain peaks that pierce the sky over the Golan Heights.
The questions weighing heavy today on the hearts and minds of many Israelis are: How do we honor? Have we done enough? Are we in danger of forgetting the sacrifices of those who gave their lives so Israel might live?
As such, we seek to consecrate. But in a larger sense the work of sanctification has already been done and there is little that we can say or do that can add any measure of significance to the brave deeds of those who turned Israel from a forbidden idea into a glorious living testament to the noble cause of Jewish statehood.
For us the living there remains the unfinished work of making our good Israeli society great; fervently wishing for peace while staying vigilant against those who seek to destroy.
By thus dedicating ourselves do we pay homage.