When the Nazis capitulated in the summer of 1945, 1 in 3 of every Jew in the world was exterminated in just five years. Think how many upcoming Nobel Prize winners the world has missed. Think how much religious and cultural life has gone up in smoke, turned to ashes in the kilns of the concentration camps, or ended up in the mass graves of Eastern Europe! It was the greatest historical disaster for the Jewish people.
But some years later, the Jewish people had experienced the greatest historic victory. They created a new state in the area where their national and religious ancestors had sovereignty 2-3000 years earlier. They resisted, withstood the vigorous attacks of neighboring states and were admitted to the UN as a member state.
How the state of Israel gave hope to the Jews of the world, who had lost hope during the Holocaust, must not be underestimated.
“Ever since then, Israel has represented to the Jews the victory of life over death, the victory of hope over despair, with the possibility of a future where the ruined past threatened to overshadow everything,” writes Daniel Gordis in the book: Saving Israel. Israel’s mere existence cries out: “Hitler did not win!”
For the last two thousand years, the Jews had not had new feast days. After the Holocaust and the creation of Israel, they have got three new ones.
First comes the day of remembrance for the six million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust. A week later comes Memorial Day for all the soldiers who have lost their lives in the struggle for the modern Jewish state. The series of mourning festivities is broken the next day, by Jom Ha-Atzma´ut, the celebration of Israel’s independence. The symbolic message is crystal clear: Israel’s being is about restoring hope, from the moment it looked as if all hope was gone.
The establishment of the State of Israel is still a powerful “vitamin injection” for the life cycle of Jewish life in the diaspora (that is, outside of Israel). “Can the Jewish people survive without the state of Israel as an anchor of life? There is little chance of that,” Gordis said. That is why modern anti-Semites are almost always anti-Zionists. They understand how important the State of Israel is to Jewish life!
The Balfour Declaration of 1917 promised the Jews “a homeland” in the land of Palestine. “The home is the place we seek to be whole, to be healthy, to rest and to recover. It is the place where we can be “ourselves. The home is where we define a world where we think we can thrive, a place where we – and not others – are the ones who decide how we want to live,” Gordis writes.
Israel has become a home for the Jews, a home created for a people, a nation – which can be equated with what a home can be for any individual and family.
Therefore, the modern state formation has changed the Jewish life, on at least three points:
1) The people have become visible
First, the creation of the Jewish state has made a great impression on how the Jewish people are perceived by others and by themselves. Before its creation, American Jews and Yemeni Jews each had their own views on what the Jews looked like – what a Jew is – and what a Jew should be. Everyone who has visited Israel gets such prejudices shattered. The Jews come in all versions, light, dark, large and small. Some have grown up in democracy, but most came from countries without democratic traditions. Some are Nobel laureates in physics, others are illiterate. Gordis writes, “The Jews who came from the scattered world had almost nothing in common, except an inexplicable feeling that they were part of the same whole. The state has changed this from a feeling to a complex reality.”
Israeli life is full of moments where one understands, despite all the shortcomings, that the formation of the state has breathed new life into the Jewish people. Israel has done much more than bring the Jews together, it has changed their feelings of belonging together as a whole – as a people. In a world, in a Europe, in a Norway, – and yes, sometimes in a Denmark – where we have been masters at keeping the Jews “out of good company” – their ongoing family reunion is something worth supporting! Who wants to stop a family reunion?
2) An ancient language has been revived
It was not something that happened, per. automatically that it should be Hebrew that became the main language in Israel. In India, English became the national language, despite the fact that this language had been “imported” into the area in recent times. English was the language of administration in the mandate area, and could also have become the favorite in Israel. A large proportion of the Jews whomoved to the area from all over the world, came from Arab countries, and they may have chosen to make Arabic their common language.
Godis writes: “But it was clear to Zionists all over Europe, Palestine and elsewhere that anything but Hebrew would not strike. Hebrew was the language that all Jews from all over the world hoped to come to Palestine, could be gathered around, something one had a common connection to. But more than that, Hebrew was the language of the book in which they all reflected. And Hebrew was the language of the Jews when they last had a state, then the nation state of David and Solomon “Hebrew was for these Zionists the language from before their time in exile, the language that was theirs – used in their own country.”
Without the state of Israel, the Hebrew language would never have been renewed and become a modern language that can communicate and unite Jewish culture and thought. In the United States, there are almost as many Jews as there are in Israel, but virtually nothing is published in written Hebrew other than religious writings. Israel has revitalized Hebrew, making it an everyday language after being the common ritual language of the Jews for thousands of years. Who will stop this good communication?
3) Israel has again made the Jews a player in history
Third, Israel has brought “the Jews back to history” not just as citizens, coming from different countries with a life abroad, but as Jews in their own country, “the foot under their own table.” In Israel, Jews can think and act like Jews and represent themselves.
“It is by living in history, by being a player in history, that the Jews can express thoughts and ideas that they have long expressed linguistically, but have never had the opportunity to realize with actions. Now they have reached the point where their choices – and the consequences of those choices – something they themselves must take responsibility for. It is also a critical dimension of being a people, ”Gordis writes.
“I do not think I will ever be convinced of what the Jews really mean until they have their own free state. Only then will we know what they have to say,” Rousseau wrote in 1762. One of Israel’s greatest contributions to it Jewish life, and to the world, is that the state has created a place where [the Jewish attitude to the problems of the world] can be debated with zeal, knowledge and love, ”Gordis points out.
In Israel, Jews can make Jewish decisions.
Israel’s enemies are well aware of how much has been created over the last hundred years and the impact it has had. It is important that the friends of Israel also understand this meaning. In a situation where the Jews might have to become a minority in their own state, the spark of life that the creation of Israel gave to the Jews of the world will quickly – or slowly – be sucked out of them.
We are with Israel for peace. We hope that the country will be allowed to exist in peace for its neighbors. But even if Israel were not to achieve this peace in the foreseeable future, we must not believe that the establishment of the State of Israel has failed.
The creation of Israel has created Jewish sovereignty, revitalized a language, and united the people. It is well worth supporting.
This article is based on a script for the lecture Why in the World Support Israel? by Conrad Myrland, general manager of MIFF. See the lecture here (1 hour).