For almost two thousand years, our ancestors prayed for a time when Israel would again be home to the Jewish people. Often feeling vulnerable and persecuted, they prayed: “May He who performed miracles for our ancestors, and freed them from slavery, speedily redeem us and gather our dispersed people from the four corners of the earth.”
It was at the end of the nineteenth century that Theodore Herzl brought together a large group of Jewish leaders and proposed the establishment of a Jewish country in the Land of Israel. He declared: “The Jews who will it shall achieve their state. We shall live at last as free men (and women) on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die. The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, and magnified by our greatness.” So was Zionism born: an ideology that led to the establishment of a modern national movement advocating the liberation of the Jewish people and the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.
It would take fifty years for Herzl’s vision to be realized: a short time, but too long a time for those who found themselves victimized by a world that remained virtually silent as six million Jews perished for lack of a country that would embrace them.
Yes, Israel faces great challenges today; some of them domestic, and some of them related to the “neighborhood” in which Israelis live. But still we feel a strong attachment to the land and to the people of Israel with whom we share not only a history, but also a vision of the Jewish people being a “Light unto the Nations.”
I hope that you will join us this evening as we share and celebrate both the reality of Israel, and the vision that animates the State of Israel. In the words of Hatikva: “To be a free people in our own land,” living in a sacred place and rooted in democracy, human dignity, and the pursuit of justice.
I believe that we all have a great stake in Israel’s well-being, as it is today far more than a place of refuge for oppressed Jews. Israel is a vibrant and dynamic country that is largely responsible for the blossoming of the Jewish spirit and the Jewish purpose. Yes, Israel represents a personal challenge to each of us: to participate in whatever way we choose in the continuing emergence of that Jewish spirit, as we assure that the Jewish people will always have a permanent address in this world.
Happy birthday to the State of Israel. We stand with you. We embrace you. And we know that our own destiny is very much linked to that of Israel and its struggle to cause righteousness to prevail in our world.
I hope to see you this evening.