For so many centuries our ancestors prayed each day: “Sound the great shofar for our freedom; raise a banner to gather our exiles, and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land.” That vision has been fulfilled in our lifetime, and tonight we celebrate Israel’s 68th birthday.
With the early Zionist movement at the end of the 19th century there was a great debate among Jewish leaders. There were those who said, “We need a homeland of our own so that we will be free to be the holy people that God has summed us to be.” And there were those who had a different perspective. “We need a homeland of our own so that we can be a normal people” like the other peoples of our world.
Why is Israel important to us as American Jews? What comes to mind first is that Israel is the one place where being Jewish is normal, not exceptional. Regardless of the degree to which one identifies as “religious,” I have heard so many people of our congregation describe this response when they visited Israel, how unexpectedly important and comforting it was for them to realize that everyone around them-the policeman, the taxi driver, the waitress-was Jewish.
But there is more than that. In the face of ongoing adversity and challenges to its very existence, Israel has made of itself a productive democracy that brings so much to our world. While there are those who call for boycotts against Israel, let alone Israel’s destruction, this tiny nation continues to make profound advances in virtually every endeavor that can better the human condition for all people. Medicine, technology, agricultural techniques, water desalination-these are but a few of the areas where Israel is contributing more to the world than most people realize or appreciate.
Yes, we all walk taller as Jews because of Israel! Only let Israel fulfill its vision of living in peace with its neighbors and our world will be so richly blessed.