A Day to Proclaim Our Love for Israel

I usually spend Yom HaAtzmaut here in New York, but when the day comes, I am always sorry that I am not in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. I have been a proud Israel activist all of my life, but the problem with being an activist is that when you spend so much time focusing on Israel as a cause, you sometimes lose touch with Israel as a place. Thus I always find myself thinking how much I would prefer to be there for this day—for the sounds, the smells, the arguments, the passions, and the language of the Jewish state.

I am also reminded every Independence Day of how blessed we are. I know that Jews today are privileged to do what Moses was never permitted to do: walk on the soil of the Land of Israel. And not only that. Jews can build on the land, plant in it, and watch children grow up on it, speaking the language of the Hebrew Bible.

As I have said over and over again, the Jewish state is a cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving. It has restored the Jewish people to national sovereignty after 2000 years. It has returned us to history. And it has given our embattled people the means to control our destiny. This involves – let’s be clear – exercising power, mastering the gun, and sometimes, tragically, misusing power. But it is far better to have power than to be powerless in a dangerous world, because in the absence of power, all other Jewish values can be turned to dust.

My concerns about Israel do not disappear on Independence Day. Not for a second. While Palestinian rejectionism is the primary reason that there is no peace, it is not the only reason. I know that without dignity for Palestinians, there will be no dignity for Israelis. I know that by persisting in the building of settlements, Israel is endangering her democratic character. And I know that when Israelis leave religious affairs in the hands of the chief rabbinate, they are guilty of a giant failure of imagination; only by creating a religious “free market” will the creative genius of the Jewish people be able to thrive in the Jewish state.

While these concerns are weighty and remain with us always, I see Yom HaAtzmaut as a day to proclaim our love for Israel and to celebrate Israel’s achievements. I am encouraged by the progress of Reform Judaism in Israel, and I believe in Israel’s capacity to foster a vibrant Jewish life and to become a classroom to world Jewry on matters of Jewish identity. I believe that Israel is a good country in a bad neighborhood and that her cause is just. I believe in the totality and the interdependence of the Jewish people, and that in the absence of Israel, Jewish life is truncated and incomplete.

On this day, therefore, let us rally the members of our congregations to Israel’s side. Let us join, all of us, as untiring partners in the building of Zion. Let us remember that Israel’s fate rests not only in the hands of her citizens but in the hands of Jews everywhere. And let us pray that peace and redemption will come to Israel’s borders and that harmony will hallow Jerusalem’s gates, bi’meheira u’viyameinu—speedily, and in our day.

This post originally appeared in Ten Minutes of Torah on May 10, 2011.

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Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie

About Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie is president emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism. He speaks and writes frequently about Israel, religious life, social justice, and other topics of interest to the Jewish community. Read his full bio and writings on the URJ website.

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