This evening marks the beginning of Israeli independence day celebrations, marked in Israel by the Hebrew date of heh be'Iyaar, rather than the common calendar date of May 15. We're 58 years old, well past middle age for people, still quite young for a nation. We're also about 3,000 years old, among the oldest nations in the world who still preserve much of their ancient language and culture, along with the Chinese and the Greeks.
Today was Israel's memorial day for our fallen dead. Over 22,000 have fallen in all the wars and violence that befell the Zionist community in Palestine and the State of Israel since 1860. It is fitting that memorial day is marked just prior to independence day, to remind us of the debt that we owe to those who died, to many more who were maimed, to the widows, orphans and bereft parents of the fallen. Every person who dies in wars or by violence is one too many, but the number of Israeli casualties is dwarfed by the losses of the Jewish people in the pogroms of Europe and in the Holocaust that followed. Independence as a price, but it is cheaper than the price of servitude.
Independence carries with it responsibility for our destiny, and for shaping the destiny of the Jewish people. We need to think carefully about what sort of Israel and what sort of Jewish people we would like to see fifty or sixty years hence, and about how we intend to go about achieving those goals.
It turns out, after 58 years, that "independence" is a relative term. In an interpendent world governed by superpowers, the independence of small countries is necessarily limited. Israel however, is more dependent than most small countries. We are dependent on the good will and backing of the United States and Europe because we are surrounded by enemies. Peace with our neighbors must be a priority goal because it will serve independence.
We have voluntarily created two additional dependencies. The first is a continuing and worrisome dependence on United States foreign military aid. There is no doubt that we pay a price for that aid, not only in subservience to the whims and vagaries of United States policy, but in vulnerability of United States support for Israel. The cost of Israel to the United States taxpayer is flaunted constantly by every anti-Zionist group and Web site.
The second dependence we have nourished is a dependence on the charity of diaspora Jewish communities. Great institutions evolved when the Zionist movement was in its infancy. The money they raised planted trees, supported pioneers, paid for immigration, bought arms for our infant armies, built hospitals and schools and universities. Time passed, and the infant Zionist community grew into a poor state, and then into a fairly prosperous state. The charity continued despite the prosperity. If rich Jews from the United States or France want to donate laboratories or institutions of higher learning or buildings for religious institutions, those are all wonderful gifts that can help cement the ties between the Jews of Israel and our brethern in the Diaspora. However, we should not be dependent on such gifts for our basic needs. If you give a friend a book or a bottle of perfume or even a new automobile, it is a gift. If you have to give them meals, or pay for their medical needs, it is charity. Israel at 58 should not need charity of that type any more. We do, and it is a sign of a problem in our society. Not long ago I saw a news report about a wonderful group of French Jews who had donated eye-glasses for a thousand needy people in the Galilee. It was a noble gesture, but Israel does not lack for millionaires whose taxes should have paid for those eye-glasses. Nobody should be without basic needs in our country. The fault does not lie of course with the generous donors, but with the society that created the need.
This is perhaps the first year in which Israel is the largest Jewish community in the world.
There are 5.64 million Jews living in Israel, more than in the United States it seems. The time is not far off when a majority of Jews will live in Israel. It is time for Israel to think of itself as the leader among Jewish communities, and to consider how we can help our brothers and sisters abroad, rather than perpetuating our dependence on them. We are approaching the time when the Jewish community in Israel is no longer the child of rich parents, but rather the adult offspring of aged and respected parents, who will need our help and support. It is time for us to act collectively as an adult. From the Diaspora we should seek culture, technical support, advice, political and moral support, as well as people who will come to make their homes here.
Israel's future is still in aliya,
ingathering of the exiled Jewish people. Therefore, the news about Israel's growth in population is welcome. The major mission of Zionism remains the reconstitution of the Jewish community as a national entity in one country. We cannot say we have fulfilled that mission until the vast majority of our people are living here. Unfortunately, part of the relative growth of Israel is due to dwindling of communities abroad. Jewish communities abroad are shrinking, in part, by attrition. Our challenge, the challenge to Jewish leadership in Israel and abroad, is to make Judaism attractive enough to prevent attrition, and to make Israel attractive enough to draw immigrants away from their comfortable existence in the United States and Europe. We believe we have a better way to offer. We will need to prove that our way is better for Jews who remain abroad, by creating an attractive, eclectic, tolerant vital and growing Jewish culture that can hold our people together, not by inducing guilt or by fanaticism, but because we can offer something wonderful that is lost to those who leave us. We will need to prove that our way is better for prospective immigrants, by creating a peaceful, safe and prosperous Jewish state that draw our people to it, not because they are fleeing persecution, but because it is better to live here. Yom Ha'atzmaut Samea'h - Happy Independence Day.
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