The Bible quotes Balaam describing the Jews as “a people that dwells alone and is not counted among the nations”. Alas, that aptly describes the status of the Jewish state on the 67th anniversary of its rebirth. Yet despite enormous challenges confronting us, we have every reason to celebrate.
Yes, Israel is the only country in the world whose right to exist and defend itself is continuously challenged. We have neighbors who still dream of driving us into the sea; we face an ongoing global tsunami of viral anti-Semitism; the world judges us by double standards; Israel is an oasis in a region in which primitive barbarism reigns as hundreds of thousands of people are butchered as a matter of routine.
But despite this, by any benchmark Israel unquestionably represents the greatest national success story of all time.
Exiled and scattered throughout the world for 2000 years and suffering endless cycles of persecution and mass murder climaxing with the Shoah, the Jews miraculously resurrected a nation state.
Since the late 19th century, Jewish idealists have been returning to their homeland and transforming deserts into gardens.
In 1947 the world was astonished when incredibly for a brief moment, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union unprecedentedly agreed to endorse the creation of a Jewish state.
There were only 600,000 Jews in Palestine when the State of Israel was declared. Yet against all odds and despite inadequate armaments and lack of military training, fighters from the fledgling state successfully vanquished the combined military forces of its Arab neighbors, determined to destroy us.
Victory was not achieved without painful sacrifice and 24 hours before rejoicing on Independence Day, we pay tribute to over 20,000 Jews those who gave up their lives to defend our Jewish state.
Our miniscule state enabled an ingathering of exiles from all corners of the world, providing a haven for survivors of the Shoah, refugees from Arab persecution, Jews from underdeveloped countries like Ethiopia and over a million from the former Soviet Union. Out of this melting pot Israel has created one of the most vibrant and resilient societies in the world.
Today we boast a thriving nation of over 8 million citizens and represent the largest Jewish community in the world.
Israel has become a veritable economic power house, emerging as the second largest country (after the U.S.) in high tech and startup facilities. We overcame our water problems by an extraordinary desalinization program. And now we are effectively energy self-sufficient and will even be exporting surplus gas resources.
Whilst there is room for improvement, our social welfare structure and in particular the medical system provides outstanding services for all Israeli citizens without discrimination.
Culturally, we are a pulsating country in which our ancient and sacred language has been renewed as the lingua franca for Jews coming from totally different cultures. There has been a dramatic revival of Torah learning with more Jews familiar with the texts and teachings of Judaism than at any time in our history.
Despite external threats and terror, we remain a democratic oasis in a regional cauldron of barbarism, providing the right to vote to all citizens and guaranteeing genuine freedom of religion and freedom of expression.
But the most incredible transformation is that after 2000 years as a subjugated and persecuted people, we have become a regional military superpower. The empowerment of the Jewish nation, the success of our people’s army and its ability deter the combined force of all its enemies is mind boggling. As we face tough challenges such as the threat of a nuclear Iran, even the mullahs realize that an attack on us would lead to their decimation.
Although the American people and Congress remain strongly supportive, as long as the Obama Administration remains in office, Israel may soon be denied the U.S. diplomatic umbrella at the United Nations and the Europeans may well be hatching further schemes to sanction us. Yet, it is mind boggling that our Prime Minister was invited three times to address Congress and on each occasion received standing ovations. That Winston Churchill was the only other leader honored in this manner says it all.
Lessons from our bitter history have taught us that when the chips are down, we can only rely on ourselves. We were initially perceived as the unfortunate underdogs. Today, we are accused of being too powerful. Most of us concur that if the price for being strong and independent obliges us to lose favor with confused bleeding heart liberals, so be it. The reality is that we are stronger today and better able to withstand political and military pressures than ever before.
In Europe, popular anti-Semitism has again transformed Jews into pariahs. Yet Jewish communities will always remain and Israel must encourage efforts to strengthen their Jewish identity and support their struggle against anti-Semitism. Diaspora Jews are fortunate knowing that if their world collapses, Israel provides them with a haven. But many will not wish to see their children grow up in an environment in which they feel obliged to conceal their Jewish identity and have military personnel guarding schools and synagogues. Increasing numbers are therefore likely to make aliyah or at least encourage their children to do so.
In the United States, aliyah will attract those Jews concerned about t their grandchildren remaining Jewish in an open society – where currently 80% of non-orthodox are marrying out. Committed Jews are also increasingly attracted to the the opportunity of living in a pulsating Jewish state which provides a cost-free Jewish education, in which the Hebrew language, culture and national holidays create a unique Jewish lifestyle which they can never experience in the Diaspora.
We must surely appreciate the privilege of living in a Jewish state and not facing the painful Jewish identity issues confronting our diaspora kinsmen.
So despite the challenges facing us, we should dismiss the purveyors of doom and gloom who transform self-criticism into masochism and continuously whine about our failings and reject the highly vocal fringe elements who disparage our achievements, mock Zionism and challenge the merits of statehood.
Of course, many aspects of Israeli society, as with any other, require attention. These include issues of growing inequality between rich and poor and the ongoing irritants in relationship between the state and organized religion. Not to mention the dysfunctional political system.
Alas, the dream of peace with our neighbors remains just a dream. But we should exult in the realization that we are stronger today than in the past when we overcame far greater challenges and genuinely faced annihilation.
Opinion polls indicate that we rank amongst the happiest and most contented people in the world. However many young Israelis now take Jewish statehood for granted, never having undergone the chilling experience of European Jews in the 1930s as they desperately sought entry visas to countries to avoid the impending Shoah. Nor can they appreciate the devastating impact of living in an anti-Semitic environment where Jews are considered pariahs.
Today, on our 67th anniversary, we should give thanks to the Almighty for enabling us to be the blessed Jewish generation, privileged to live in freedom in our resurrected ancient homeland. We should continually remind ourselves that our success defies rationality and by any benchmark must be deemed miraculous.
Isi Leibler may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom