Tuesday, 24 Apr 2012

Written by Rabbi Yuval Keren

Happy birthday Israel

You came to the world 64 years ago, young, tender, and hopeful.

Yet, your foundations are old. You still remember ancient ancestors – Abraham who one day left his far-away home and came to be with you. You still recall God’s promise to give this land to him and to his children after him. His son Isaac was born laughing in you, and Isaac’s children, Jacob and Esau chased each other on your soil. Jacob did leave you for your neighbour, Egypt – but his children did eventually return in great numbers – and they treated you with special care and respect ever since.

You still remember the judges who protected you, Saul, David and Solomon who made you into a kingdom, the prophets who warned the people against abusing you, and the priests and Levites who were so glad to see you back after the long 70 years of the Babylonian exile.

Your foundations are also new. You emerged from the shtetls of Europe and from the Jewish ghettoes of North Africa, from the pogroms of Russia and from the old-new anti-Semitism and worldwide hatred of the Jew.

You came out of European enlightenment and nationalism. You emerged from the desire of your people for self-determination, the revival of a language once spoken in your streets, and the struggle for Jewish independence.

You barely survived Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Bergen Belsen, and a thousand other Nazi death camps. It is said that without the great fire in Europe that consumed six million of your children you would never have come to existence. I would like to think that without this great fire you would have doubled the number of your citizens!

Happy birthday Israel.

In your short 64 years of existence you did not cease from the work of innovating and inventing for a moment.

You are today one of the most modern and stable economies in the world. Billions of people benefit every day from your inventions in so many fields – agriculture, medicine, chemistry, physics, economics, information technology, and more. Out of your unfortunate necessity to keep yourself safe came some of the most advanced weapon systems in the world. I keep the hope that one day soon you will be able to turn these inventions into technologically advanced ploughshares and pruning hooks – and that the skill of modern warfare will be needed no more.

Happy birthday Israel

In your short 64 years of existence you provided a shelter and a home for ‘homeless’ Jews around the world. People gathered into you as they lost their old homes and their future in Europe, when they were harassed by their neighbours in Morrocco, and when they were expelled from Egypt, without their dignity and without property and with no RIGHT OF RETURN.

You also provided a home to those who always remembered you as their home wherever they wend and no matter how long they were away from you. The Jews of Ethiopia and India who left you 3,000 years ago in the days of King Solomon, the Jews of Iraq who were members of the 1st exile to Babylon 2,500 years ago, and Sepharadi Jews who had to suffer two painful exiles –first from your shores and a second time from their temporary homes in Spain and Portugal.

Happy birthday Israel

In your short 64 years of existence you had to struggle for survival. You fought war after war and you had to win them all, because losing even a single one was never an option.

You are the most democratic and humane country in the Middle East, the only place where there is freedom of worship for all religions, the only place where even those who disagree with your own existence can become members of your Parliament, the one piece of land where African refugees feel safe to reach. Yet you are also the most condemned country in the world, with nearly 450 of the 700 UN General Assembly resolutions condemning you since your revival in 1948. Your struggle for survival is seen as aggression, occupation and hostility while the massacres your neighbours perform on their own people are seen as internal affairs.

What will the future hold for you? I am not a prophet, nor am I a son of a prophet. Yet, as Jews we have the duty to support you, be with you and believe in you. As humans we need to make sure we understand the need for you to exist, and be there as a shelter to an otherwise homeless nation.

It is also our duty to let the rest of the world know that, despite the bad reputation that some (or many) try to give you every day, you are still the most impressive and inspiring place on Earth.

Happy birthday Israel

And many happy returns

Rabbi Yuval Keren
April 2012



The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.

The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.