Israel at 70

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, April 3, 2018

For human beings, turning 70 might be seen as an entry into a new era of life – new directions, new definitions of self. At one point in human history, 70 was seen as ripe old age- the Psalmist wrote that “the days of our years are threescore and ten, or by reason of strength, fourscore years. (Psalm 90:10). For a country like Israel, however, on the map of the world, 70 years is a very short time span. Many of us are still young enough to remember the beginnings of the modern state of Israel in 1948. So, for Israel, 70 years is a turning point, and a new era of life, a maturity, hopefully moving towards a shift in definition and understanding of identity.

Over her 70 years of statehood, this tiny country has grown and flourished, survived an astonishing number of wars, and continues to thrive and develop despite many efforts to question her legitimacy.

As Israel has advanced in years, the population has grown from 600,000 to 8 million. Israel has managed to absorb millions of immigrants from very diverse backgrounds. And as the years have gone by, this beautiful country has become a place whose heart beats with the sounds of amazing music, art, and literature, a think tank for scholars, scientists, and innovators.

This start-up nation has made unprecedented contributions in technology, science and medicine. Yet, most of the pioneers who came to Israel in the early waves of aliyot were young adults who had no particular training or experience in these fields. In a place with few resources and a scarcity of water, these young optimists worked hard to solve problems and grow and develop agriculture. They took risks and tried out ideas and in the process of experimentation, created a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, that is now home to world-renowned scientists, technologists and engineers.

Yes, Israel has its challenges – internal problems, political divides, religious rifts. And there are changes and challenges that undoubtedly still lie ahead.

Yet despite these challenges, North American Reform Jews continue to love Israel not only as a safe-haven, the homeland of the Jewish people, but also as the beating heart, the center of Jewish life. This year marked the ordination of the 100th Israeli Reform rabbi, Rabbi Leora Ezrachi-Vered, the daughter of Rabi Naamah Kelman, the first woman ordained in Israel by the Reform movement. Today there are 45 active Reform congregations in Israel, and regional Reform rabbis who serve communities from the Golan Heights to the Negev desert. The Reform movement has led the way in building open, pluralistic, accepting Jewish communities, and advocating for social justice. We have also midwifed the Israeli secular social and civil rights movements and paved the way for the ordination of Orthodox women. More Israelis are also finding new ways to connect to Jewish life.

Birthdays are times for celebration and reflection. We think about how time has shifted and how our identity has strengthened and changed, how we are defined. How do we see ourselves in the past and what do we look forward to in the future? Are we defined by how others see us, by our relationships, our mitzvot, our hard work, our transgressions, our fears and regrets? How do we continue to evolve and develop while letting go of what no longer defines us. As we reflect on 70 years of Israeli life, culture, and politics, even as grapple with the challenging perspectives, internal problems, and the gaps between where we thought Israel might be and where things are, we celebrate Israel’s evolution. As we celebrate these 70 years, we look ahead with loving engagement, connection, and passion for Israel, as we wait to discover what the future will bring.

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