By Rabbi David M. Weis
As Israel celebrates the 64th anniversary of its Declaration of Independence, I am celebrating my 57th birthday. I share that information, because my age tells a great deal about how Israel fits into my life and worldview. I was raised in the early years of the State of Israel. I was reared with a strong connection to the justice of the Jewish cause and the promise of Zionism’s mission to create a Jewish democratic state in Israel. I daily monitored the spectacular successes of the IDF during the Six Day War in June of 1967, and conversely shared the pain and fear that accompanied the Yom Kippur War in 1973. I beamed with pride as Israel’s bravest flew to Uganda to free hijacked Jewish captives held by terrorists in Entebbe, and felt vindicated when the Zionist enterprise, the same enterprise declared racist by the U.N. in 1975, arranged to have a civil war suspended so that a caravan of Israeli planes could fly into Ethiopia and airlift over 14,000 Beta Yisrael (Black Jews) home to Israel to be reunited with our people. This was the Israel upon which I was raised.
As we all know, Israel’s image has become tarnished in recent years, both in the world and among some Jews. Israel’s governmental policies are often far from perfect; Israeli society has numerous and significant challenges; the Jewish democratic paradigm is not yet universally applied. All of this is true, yet I am still awed by the vibrant Jewish ethical debate that emerges from Israelis and her various institutions. Let us not forget that our people is always on a journey to becoming. On Pesach we re-enact our journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, a journey that is ongoing. We are always moving from slavery to freedom, from crisis to resolution, from despair to hope; our paradigm is that we are moving from the world as it is to the world that ought to be. So it is with my beloved Israel.
Last summer, I was in Israel during the rallies for economic justice. Many young Israelis find it impossible to afford a place to live in the cities, the housing prices being untouchable. Young people are disheartened by the growing disparity between the rich and everyone else. While they applaud those who make it because of their ingenuity and creativity, they are displeased by the unfairness of corporate corruption. The small spontaneous protests began as tent cities and grew into a massive social movement that drew hundreds of thousands of supporters. These young people created a peaceful, respectful, mass movement that brought the media, the intelligentsia, their parents and grandparents to their cause. Their rallies garnered a substantial cross section of Israeli society; it became the largest demonstration in Israel’s history. These young people became empowered to change their society. And, the shear enormity of support forced the government to respond.
Respected Economics Professor, Manuel Trajtenberg headed a committee to analyze the complaints and make recommendations. Most of those recommendations have been accepted by the government, and Israel is on the way to addressing the real concerns of a generation of dedicated young people who love their country, are devoted to her future and ask only that their society reflect the social justice that is at the heart of Judaism and the Zionist vision.
What began as a year of great challenge and serious disaffection has ended with a palpable hope for a brighter tomorrow. Moreover, we have witnessed the engagement of a generation who now understands that they have a significant role in building the future of Israeli society.
Are there more issues to address? Of course, the list is long. But, as Israel begins her 65th year, I remain, as always, a proud and committed Zionist, with a renewed hope in the future of the Jewish democratic State of Israel.
As we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, join me, and the Reform Movement, in showing our support for Israel with the first Reform Israel Shabbat on April 27-28.
Rabbi David M. Weis is the Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Northfield, NJ. He is also a member of the CCAR Israel Committee.