Every Friday afternoon in Jerusalem a siren goes off to let people know that Shabbat is soon starting, and that they should complete their preparations. It is a pretty happy sound, signaling twenty five hours of peacefullness and rest.
Last Friday the siren rang earlier. It was a warning that missiles were on their way. The missiles themselves did not land in Jerusalem itself, but they did create anxiety over what might happen in the future.
These rockets have been pounding the south of Israel for years. They are starting to reach more and more of the country in attempt to get the Israelis to want to abandon the land and go elsewhere. The Israelis are not leaving.
The story of Isaac in the Torah teaches us a great deal about the Jewish spirit and the Land of Israel.
Isaac has a number of good qualities, but today, the most important is that he never left Israel, even during tough times,and during morally challenging times. He does not leave during times of famine or threats by neighboring peoples. He stays and makes the most of his life there.
Like Isaac, the Jewish people never left Israel, even during thousands of years of exile and humiliation by those we were forced to live under.
Three times a day we pray for Jerusalem rebuilt.
Every meal on Shabbat and holidays we sing shir hamaalot. Upon the return to Zion from Exile we will be like dreamers.
It made no sense to do so. We were scattered around the world, and powerless. We made enough contributions to each society to justify our existence for at least a while, but we were never considered significant. We stayed a people in our hearts even though most Jews would never see any communities outside of their own.
If you had read the story of the rise of Zionism among secular Jews, and the establishment of a state after the Holocaust, and a society created by Jews from all over the world with different languages and customs, you would have said it was fantasy.
But as Herzl said, if you have will, it is not a fantasy. The Jewish people never left Israel, even those who never lived there, even those who could not visit.
November of 1938 was kristallnacht. By November of 1947, the United Nations declared its intention that there be a Jewish state and an Arab state in the land known as Palestine. The Jews accepted and have created one of the great social experiments of all time.
It was easy for Jews to feel united outside of Israel. When we were scattered all over we did not really have to interact. Feeling united in the same land is much more challening.
Israel could have been a disaster. There were numerous different languages, religious and cultural traditions, and political differences. There were acute agricultural and military needs to be filled by a people with little experience in either. Somehow it worked.
There is still a great deal of work to be done. There are the obvious external threats. But the internal ones may be just as important in the long run. Integrating the Charedi into the mainstreams of Israeli, while respecting their personal lifestyles. The future of the military and of technology depend on their entering into Israeli society.
Also, there has to be genuine respect for all the ways people can be Jewish. There can be no more arrests of women wearing a tallit at the kotel. The kotel belongs to the Jewish people, not just one group.
We have to look at what it means to be democratic and Jewish, especially for Israel’s very large population of Muslims, Druze and Christians. Loyalty has to work both ways.
I think it is important to raise issues that we believe are critical to the future of Israel, but Israel’s having a future should never be debated. It is a legal country as voted by the United Nations, and the only one who lives with constant threat of its destruction by other members of the United Nations.
Amazingly, Israelis say on average they are happier than many people who live in far safer and secure places in the world. They believe their lives truly have meaning and purpose. They are part of project that maybe someday the world will appreciate.
We are part of that project, too. Some of us will live there someday, but most will not. Many will visit, and some will not be so fortunate. But we can keep Israel in our thoughts and prayers, and at least try to understand what is happening there, and how different the world would have been a hundred years ago if there had been an Israel then, and how extraordinary it is that we have it now. Let us make sure that we are like Isaac, and that we never leave Israel.