02 November 2017
I have just returned from Federation’s Israel YOUR Way Mission to Israel, alongside nearly one hundred of our passionate and dedicated Greater Washington community members. Throughout our journey, we saw many of the miracles of Israel and what it has created over the past 70 years. We also heard many of the ongoing challenges that will be critical in defining Israel’s future. Walking the streets, visiting organizations and meeting the citizens of this amazing country, I was reminded of an Israeli pioneer song from the early years of pre-state immigration, Anu banu artza livnot ulehibanot bah—”We come to this land to build it and be built by it!” This spirit is still intact today.
As we traveled through Israel, we witnessed the miracle of what has transpired since the first Zionist Congress in 1897 – 120 years ago. Over the course of the first 50 years between the first Zionist Congress (1897) and the Partition Plan approval (1947), World Jewry experienced both its most important rebirths, but also one of its most horrific tragedies with the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust. Even as the Nazis sought to destroy the Jewish people, a new state was being built that would lead to global Jewish revival. A new country was being built, step-by-step, with new institutions, a new culture and a new modern Hebrew language that Jews from more than 100 countries now speak together in Israel.
We moved from a Jewish community unable to defend itself against ongoing pogroms and attacks to one where Israel can effectively defend itself against attacks from those seeking to destroy it.
We moved from a struggling, agricultural economy to being a global leader in many technological arenas including high tech, cyber-security, medical technology, water desalination and more. At the same time, Israel is also a leading center for fashion design, art and world-class trends in food.
However, as we experienced the incredible strides that Israel has already made, we also saw that the work is far from over.
Israel is still facing ongoing threats to its survival and ongoing challenges to its identity. There is still no peace with many of its neighbors and no agreement on a potential settlement with the Palestinians living under Israeli authority who want an independent state. There is ongoing debate within Israel as to what it means to be both a Jewish and a democratic state. There is an evolving debate as to Israel’s role and responsibility to world Jewry, just as we consider our appropriate role and responsibility to it. Moreover, some have suggested that these questions regarding Israel and its future will lead to an inevitable separation between Israel and the US Jewish community.
Across the discussions we had on the Mission, one thing was clear. We must celebrate the miracle of what has happened over the past 120 years and what Israel is today, while simultaneously participating and engaging in the questions about the future. Shlomi Ravid, Director of The Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education at Tel Aviv University, defines Israel as, “the vision and venture of the Jewish People. The Jewish People’s central project in modern times is the building of a sovereign Jewish State in the Land of Israel.” The future of Israel is inextricably tied to the future of world Jewry, just as the future of world Jewry is inextricably tied to the future of Israel. Being an active participant in the Jewish People implies an ongoing relationship with the State of Israel, its successes and its struggles.
As we consider the future of Judaism in the 21st century and build a Jewish and democratic state that is both the governing country of over 8.5 million citizens but also the homeland for global Jewry, we must be part of the conversation and not merely observers.
I was grateful for the opportunity to see Israel through the eyes of so many dedicated community members, and to share such a meaningful journey with them.
As Avraham Infeld said during the closing session of the Mission, “we are family.” As a family, it is our responsibility to be part of the conversation that will define our collective future. Israel is a place that we continue to build, even as it continues to build us.
Through missions like Israel YOUR Way and other work that we do as a community, we learn, engage and shape our collective future. I look forward to what we will continue to discover – and build – together.