Sunday, May 04, 2008

Happy birthday Israel - Four major reasons to be proud

Israel, a miracle of our times, is about to celebrate its 60th birthday.
A cool new blog, called, has launched a challenge to list Israel's four greatest accomplishments.

Yikes. Only four.

As a Zionist in semi-permanent exile, I remain attached somehow to the homeland I love, which is not where I choose to live.

1. Judaism without compromise. As a truly religious person, I covet a life in which I don't have to worry or choose between being myself and being Jewish. To that end, attending a university that doesn't schedule finals on Pesach and graduation on Shavuot, or being able to attend "weekend" events without them being on Shabbat, is a godsend. I don't apologize for Israel's Jewishness as Maclean's thinks I should - after all, Canada and the US, despite some level of separation of Church and state, are nonetheless fundamentally Christian countries. But being Jewish in Canada and the US requires some level of compromise - food we can't eat, cooking schools we can't attend, events we miss because of holidays, having to convince the ID card people at Harvard that I have to wear my hat for my photo, etc. etc....

There are problems with the religious aspects of Israel, the Rabbanut's stranglehold on marriage being one of them, but at the end of the day, it's nice to not be a minority somewhere.

2. Sanctuary - "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." (Robert Frost.) Many people would not choose to live in Israel, but what about people who don't have a choice? Three of my four grandparents fled hostile countries some time around WW2, and Canada's legacy at that time ('none is too many') was only slightly more harsh than the prevailing anti-Semitism here in the US, which kept many refugees out. After the Holocaust, many countries still tried to keep Jews out, and only the creation of the State of Israel solved the problem of homeless Jewish refugees in DP camps in Europe. Even recently, the mass Ethiopian migration and the fall of the Soviet Union are examples of cases where many Jews who had nowhere else to go were brought safely to Israel.

At times, as well, Israel has accepted small numbers of non-Jewish refugees from other countries, like in 2007, when Israel initially wanted to send back Sudanese refugees but then eventually let them stay.

3. An almost suicidal attachment to civil rights and free speech.
While not every aspect of our relationship with our Arab neighbors is praiseworthy, for the most part, Israel honors the freedom of speech it believes in by allowing MKs from certain parties to expressly call for Israel's destruction, yet retain their Knesset seats. Israel's Supreme Court hears cases from enemies of the state of Israel willingly. The IDF minimized civilian casualties at the expense of its missions. We cling so fiercely to liberty and life, it seems as though we lead by glorious example to the world around us in terms of how to treat those we disagree with.

4. If you will it, it is no dream.

Israel is one impossibility after another. Eliezer Ben Yehuda resurrected a dead language. Ben Gurion supervised the partial settlement of the Negev desert. Refugee Jews running from the Cossacks built bustling kibbutzim where there was sand. The smallest of armies held back multiple enemy forces. Tech start-ups were responsible for important technological change and advancement. In 150 years, the land of Israel went from swamp to the place where everyone has two cellphones. Israel's existence has been about making the impossible possible.

"Harachaman hu Yivarech Et Medinat Yisrael, Reishit Tzmichat Geulateynu."