Israel and the Fantastiks
Pesach is celebrated by more than 90% of all Jews. We recall the story of our liberation from slavery, but we often forget that we were freed in order to be a holy people. Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, is celebrated by most Israeli citizens, but less than a third of the Jews of America? Why?
In the play The Fantastiks, there is a song about vegetables and children. The opening line is, “Plant a radish; get a radish, never any doubt.” The song goes on to the subject of children. “While with children, it’s bewilderin.’ You don’t know until the seed is nearly grown; just what you’ve sown.”
Pesach is sort of like a radish. We know what to expect, the story is well established, and the facts of the Exodus do not change, even as we add layers of interpretation and meaning. But Israel – Israel is an organic, alive, ever-changing and ever-challenging enterprise trying its best to live up to its own ideals, be a light unto the nations for all of us, and still remain safe and secure in a very dangerous neighborhood. Life in and supporting Israel is sometimes messy, often exhilarating, and always full of surprises. For sure the “seed” is not nearly grown.
If we take Israel seriously, and if Yom Ha’Atzmaut is a holiday for all Jews, which it should be, then how do we celebrate the success of Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, this April 25/26 as Israel turns 64?
The answer is relatively easy; make a commitment to make Israel an always improving society. In a recent study in the United States by the Public Religion Research Institute, the question was asked: What is most important to one’s Jewish identity? The leading answer, with 46%, was a commitment to social equality. Support for Israel was second with 20%. If the Jews in group one and the Jews in group two could be combined, then 66% of American Jews could work together to create more social equality in Israel.
Didn’t your mom or dad repeatedly say, in the mantra of all Jewish parents, “If you put your mind to it you can achieve anything?” If not for this attitude, we would not have reclaimed Israel in the first place. It is the Jewish élan of self confidence that moves us forward. Aren’t we the people of miracles, of splitting seas, of Nobel Prize winners who are the envy of the world? Ours is the amazing story of a people repatriated, a land reclaimed, and a language renewed because we know that we can achieve anything.
Zionism- and now Israel – always was and is more than politically aspirational, it is about ethical aspiration as well. Israel is our opportunity to continue to create a unique Jewish society, one that will long stand as a light unto the world as it already does in so many ways. As Ahad Ha’am wrote, what we need is not just a state for Jews or a state of Jews, but a truly Jewish state.
As Reform Jews, we have a vital stake in that Jewish State. As Reform Jews, we are committed to social equality. As Reform Jews, we are already making Israel an ever more inclusive democratic state. Our collective efforts are shaping the soul of Israel which is the ultimate security of the country. This Yom Ha’Atzmaut, rededicate your efforts to the unfinished work of growing what is still just the seed of Israel.
Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah.