By Rabbi Mordechai Levin
The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel begins with these words: “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious, and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.”
The return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel didn’t begin in the 20th century. We did not voluntarily leave the land. We were driven out by other powers: first Babylon, then Rome. We never renounced our right to the land of Israel and Jerusalem, and never in all the centuries stopped praying for the day we would return.
Those of us born after 1948 often view the State of Israel as a fact of life, a nation among nations. But try to imagine what the world was like for Jews before the State of Israel came into being. Had it existed before the Second World War, the lives of millions of Jews may have been very different. At the end of World War II, European Jewry had been desolated by the horrors of the Shoah (Holocaust).
The United Nations’s General Assembly recommended partitioning the land into independent Arab and Jewish states. This plan was accepted on November 29, 1947. A few months later, on Friday, May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence that created the State of Israel. But the Palestinians did not declare their independence. Instead, they and the Arab states attacked Israel with the goal of destroying it. This fight for Israel right’s to live has never ended, and today, Iran, Hamas in the Palestinian territories, Hizbullah in Lebanon, and others continue to proclaim their murderous intentions.
Israel and America are two of the Islamic terrorists’ most hated targets, because we represents values and principles abhorrent to them, such as democracy, human rights, equality for women and free speech.
In these 70 years, the state and people of Israel are fighting for its life. The right to life implies the right to self-defense against any aggressor. No nation can be denied its very right to exist. And yet that is what Israel’s enemies and critics are doing and saying today.
In historical terms, seventy is not a long time. But the balance sheet of those years has certainly been impressive. Israel can look back with tremendous pride. A small country, which has withstood continuing Arab attacks, wars, boycotts and terrorism. Nevertheless, it has turned itself from a poor country to a post-industrial democracy. It stands out as a singular democratic first-world island in an Arab sea lacking in democracy and rights.
Despite the situation, we are filled with pride with joy and with gratitude for what Israel has achieved in 70 years.
Israel’s struggles are far from over. It is vital that we, as Jews, continue our support. We must preserve the hope, that this difficult neighborhood the Middle East can ultimately become a land of peace.
It is written in the Hebrew Bible (Psalm 126) “When God brought back those who returned to Zion we were as dreamers.” The dreams of generations come true in our time. We are the generation that has seen our prayers answered. We are the generation that has seen our people go from the crematorium of Auschwitz to the streets of Israel.
Let us all rejoice in wishing the State of Israel a happy birthday. After 2,000 years of exile, centuries of discrimination and persecution in Christian Europe, and after the Holocaust, it is the State of Israel that allows us to proclaim: Am Israel chai – the people of Israel live and will live on forever.