A Free People In Our Land

May 8, 2011

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On Monday evening we will begin to celebrate the anniversary of a unique moment in Jewish history, just as tonight we mourn the loss of those who gave their lives for this moment to be sustained.

In May 1948 David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel, and in so doing signalled that for the first time in over 2000 years the Jews would be – as the re-written National Anthem would declare – a free people in their land.

There have been times when the Jews were living in the land of Israel, connected to their heritage, but without any freedom to govern their own affairs. There are other places in the world where Jews have freedoms but do not live in the land of the bible. This combination of Freedom, Peoplehood, and the Land of Israel has only been in existence for 63 years.

There are clearly times when this unique combination of values clash. In recent years the way in which women’s access to the Western Wall has been managed would seem to show where freedom, the unity of the Jewish People, and the sacred land painfully limit each other. Our ongoing conflict with the Palestinians would seem to draw attention to the challenge between living free from attack on one hand, and choosing to grant freedom to others on the other hand. Our freedom to make our own decisions for the good of the Jewish People in this land raises many issues as African refugees come knocking on our door.

At the same time we have recently witnessed inspiring phenomena that could only have taken place given this unique set of circumstances. Without the State of Israel, the Jewish People would have been unable to provide such direct support to the victims of the Haiti earthquake. Without this fresh combination of freedom, tradition, and land, we would never have seen such an overflowing of new Hebrew Jewish culture that enriches the world of film, dance, literature, music, and more. A brief visit to the site of Better Place, destined to turn Israel into the first country with a national infrastructure of electric cars, shows the potential behind a wise combination of tikkun olam, ingenuity, and the particularity of this state.

For three hundred and sixty-three days we might question and critique. These are the two days in the year when we can step back and wonder: At the price paid, the glory of the success and the deep daring to become A Free People in Our Land.

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