Jews everywhere will be opining on the modern State of Israel as we celebrate her 64th anniversary. For many Diaspora Jews, the mention of Israel brings up deep emotions.
In an Israeli Independence Day essay contest, Darcy Silvers wrote:
I may live in the Diaspora, but Israel is in my heart. I think of Israel constantly…. I think of Israel at bedtime, when my youngest son prays for peace…. Just as I dare not remove the ring from my finger, I cannot remove Israel from my being. I am Israel. She is me. We are one. When all else in the world seems dark and hopeless, Israel is my beacon of hope. Am Yisrael Chai.
Some would suggest that many of us outside the land are a bit too obsessed with Israel. Author Joyce R. Starr wrote:
There is a basic imbalance in the relationship between Israelis and American Jews…. Deeply committed American Jews spend the better part of their working and/or leisure hours thinking about, working on behalf of, and worrying about the State of Israel. Few Israelis spend more than a few minutes a year worrying about the future of American Jews.
There is a reason for that phenomenon. In our collective Jewish psyche, we are tied to the Land promised to our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. After the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. and our people were driven from the Land for nearly 2,000 years, we continued to long for our homeland. Then in 1948, it seemed like a miracle when Israel was recognized as an independent state and again, a mere nineteen years later, when Israel took control of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War with Egypt and Syria.
Today, the very existence of tiny Israel surrounded by her Arab neighbors, many of whom wish she would vanish off the face of the earth, gives us a sense of both pride and wonder.
Larry King puts it well:
Israel shows that no matter how overwhelming the adversary—or the adversity—we can not only overcome it, but make something great from that tragedy…. I’ve never been a particularly observant Jew, but when I look upon Israel’s achievements, its strength and its vibrant democracy, I feel tremendous pride to be a Jew.
Emmy Award-winning host of Larry King Live
Admittedly, most of us would not feel comfortable if we had to justify each of Israel’s actions. But that does not lessen our loyalty. Rabbi Michael Lerner expresses it this way:
I love Israel so much that I will not be silenced until it becomes true that from Zion will come forth Torah—not the Torah of hate and anger and fear, but the Torah of love, kindness, generosity, social justice and peace.
-Rabbi Michael Lerner
editor, Tikkun magazine
Our sensitivities when it comes to justice issues should rise to the surface. But as Leon Botsin, president of Bard College, notes:
Zionism, as mirrored in the State of Israel, has proven the point that Jews are in fact just human. Israel has displayed a full range of human achievement and weakness and of decency and its absence common to all nations. Comparatively speaking, one can make the case that Israel had behaved better, given the circumstances.
You may or may not agree with Botsin’s assessment of Israel’s behavior. At the same time, wherever we stand on a particular issue regarding the actions Israel takes, those of us Jews living outside the land feel it is our right and duty to express our opinion.
As novelist Ann Roiphe puts it:
Some question the right of an American Jew to comment on Israeli policy since our own lives are not on the line and our children do not serve in the army. But we in the Diaspora are not of another nation. We are simply living for now in a far-off place. What happens to Israel, whether it can survive the hostility of its neighbors and the enmity of the Western world, is of enormous significance to our lives.
Some Jews praise Israel, others offer criticism. But one common theme emerges—the wonder at Israel’s existence and survival.
I know deep within me that something surreal is afoot. Among the horror of the barbaric attempts to kill as many Jews as possible, whether in the Holocaust or currently in their own land, I cannot help but realize that our survival as a people, as well as the survival of Israel as a state, has defied all reason and logic.
-Judy Field Carr
clandestinely arranged for the rescue of the
Jewish community of Syria over almost three decades
Almost all my adult life I’ve written stories about superheroes, noble characters who battle insurmountable odds in the name of justice and righteousness. Perhaps that’s why I’m such a fan of the tiny valiant nation of Israel and of the indomitable spirit of its people.
Creator of Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk
and many other legendary Marvel Comics superheroes
Stan Lee marvels (forgive the pun) at the establishment of the State of Israel against “insurmountable odds.” I think we all do, though we sometimes fail to flesh out the “why” of her survival. Many look to Israel’s ingenuity and cleverness, the bravery of her soldiers, the superiority of her weaponry, and powerful friends like the U.S. as the reasons. Few would point to a connection between the modern nation’s birth and survival and the God of Israel and the Bible. Yet, the Hebrew Scriptures predicted this new nation. The prophet Isaiah declared, “Who has ever heard of such a thing? Who has ever seen such things? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children” (Isaiah 66:8).
Could it be that this describes what happened on May 14, 1948 when Israel declared itself a united and sovereign nation? That same day, the United States issued a statement recognizing Israel’s sovereignty. And just hours previously, a United Nations mandate expired, ending British control of the Land. In a sense, modern Israel was born in a day!
The Hebrew Scriptures are replete with references to the land of the Jewish people. The prophet Ezekiel predicted that God would restore the Jewish people to the Land: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land” (Ezekiel 37:21). See also Ezekiel 36:24; Jeremiah 30:3.
And Yeshua (Jesus) spoke of a time when the Jewish people would regain control of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the gentiles until the times of the gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24) Whether or not this “time of the gentiles” is fulfilled is debatable. However, in 1967 Israel recaptured Jerusalem for the first time since 70 A.D.
What does this tell us about the future survival prospects for Israel? Israel’s continued existence sometimes seems bleak, especially in the face of ominous threats from other nations and the growing isolation she feels from the world community of nations. Whether it is the threat of nuclear attack or terrorist bombs, it is no wonder that many Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora wonder if there is any hope for peace in the Middle East or survival at all? From the human perspective, this seems pretty dismal. But as the Hebrew Scriptures remind us, “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)
We can trust in his promises for his continued protection of Israel. In fact, we need to trust in God rather than in all those other factors mentioned, including Israel’s military strength or that of her allies.
Decrying the secularism he observes in Israel today, Rabbi Eric Yoffie writes:
Surely it is absurd to assume that the Jews of Israel are the first Jews in all of Jewish history who have no need of God, prayer, and the sacredness of Jewish texts and traditions. If we know anything at all from Jewish history it is this: Torah-free Jewish civilizations have no staying power, and it is silly to think that the state of Israel will constitute an exception to this rule.
The Hebrew Scriptures say that things will actually get much worse for Israel before they get better: “How awful that day will be! No other will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it” (Jeremiah 30:7).
Sometimes God has to discipline his children to get their attention and to turn them back to himself. As author Richard Harvey notes:
To some, Zionism is seen as a form of salvation. But at best it is salvation for a land and relationship to a place. True biblical salvation is a relationship to God. Salvation must come by faith, not by fight. The prophets spoke of the high standards which the Torah set for everyday life, standards which have largely remained unmet. The prophets brought not just criticism and condemnation for these failures, but also the promise of forgiveness and the hope of a redeemer. This redeemer, the Messiah, would truly establish his kingdom in Zion and bring its citizens into harmony with one another.
Who is this redeemer? He is the one who came to Israel 2,000 years ago to die for our sins, and the one who will return to save Israel in its darkest hour. As the prophet Zechariah predicted, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son” (Zechariah 12:10).
We don’t need to wait until that hour to embrace Yeshua.
God has put a longing in our hearts for a place, Israel. But that longing was not to replace the longing for him, or his Messiah. Just as Israel can rest in God’s promise that “he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4), so too can we rest in the Messiah’s promise to care for us as individuals when we place our trust in him. As he said, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Sandee Brawarsky and Deborah Mark, editors, Two Jews, Three Opinions: A Collection of Twentieth-Century American Jewish Quotations (New York, The Berkeley Publishing Group, 1998), p. 275.
 Alan Dershowitz, editor, What Israel Means to Me (Hoboken, NJ, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006), p. 224.
 op.cit., p. 254.
Brawarsky and Mark, op. cit., p. 559.
 Dershowitz, op. cit., p. 303.
op. cit., p. 74.
 op. cit., p. 242.
 op. cit., p. 350.