Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Meaning of Israel: יום העצמאות ה60‎ ערב

“What is the meaning of the state of Israel? No single answer can exhaust its meaning. One fact is clear. In no other community do we witness such an intense, ongoing search, such an effort to understand itself in terms of a higher vision as in Israel.
–A. J Heschel, Israel: An Echo of Eternity

From the time I was born here, and through my education in Australian Zionist schools and youth movements, I remember repeatedly hearing two contradictory answers to the question of what the purpose of the Israel should be, The first is that we should aspire to be a nation like all other nations. We will know that this purpose has been fulfilled "when Jewish thieves and Jewish prostitutes conduct their business in Hebrew." The second is that we have been selected by God to be different from other nations, and with this chosen status came a special responsibility. “To be a light unto the nations.” Both statements were always attributed to David Ben Gurion.

On the eve of our sixtieth birthday, we are both. Like most other western nations we value money and materialism too much, our inept political leadership generates more apathy than hope, and we struggle to treat our minorities with the same dignity afforded to our majorities. More specifically the way we have dealt with the question of Palestinian nationalism has tarnished our image in the world more than any other event.

Avashai Margalit suggest’s there perhaps is a third, more realistic option between these two ideals. Margalit’s ideal is a society whose institutions do not humiliate the people under their authority, and whose citizens do not humiliate one another. He calls this a “decent society.”

This coming week is not one for these questions. It is a time for honoring and celebrating the great people and achievements of the only Jewish State. But once the smoke from the fireworks has cleared way, and the flags have come down, it would be nice to know where we are headed.

עד 120 יום הולדת שמח יִשְרָאֵל!