“I believe that a wondrous generation of Jews will spring into existence. The Maccabeans will rise again. Let me repeat once more my opening words: The Jews who wish for a State will have it. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes. The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.”
These are the words of Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl, a nineteenth century Zionist who, in the face of increasing anti-Semitism, dared to dream of a place where Jews could be Jews. A place where Jewish men and women could govern themselves. A place where Jewish children could grow up proud of their heritage and free to practice their religion unencumbered. Herzl dared to dream of Israel.
“A state cannot be created by decree,” Chaim Weizmann once said “but by the forces of a people and in the course of generations. Even if all the governments of the world gave us a country, it would only be a gift of words. But if the Jewish people will go build Palestine, the Jewish State will become a reality—a fact.”
Weizmann, a scientist who would later form the Weizmann Institute, help to found the Hebrew University, and later serve as the first President of Israel, dared to dream of Israel.
“If we wish,” Eliezer Ben-Yehuda once proclaimed, “that the name Israel be not extinguished, then we are duty bound to create something which may serve as a center for our entire people, like the heart in an organism, from which the blood will stream into all the arteries of the national body and fill it with life.”
Ben-Yehuda, who established the Committee of the Hebrew language, and was the author of the first modern Hebrew dictionary, who brought Hebrew from a language that only existed in Torah to the modern official language of the State of Israel, dared to dream of Israel.
Today, as we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, I want to celebrate the dreamers. Israel, like anywhere else, is complicated. Its politics are complicated. Its people are complicated. And yes, even its language is complicated. But at its heart, Israel is a beautiful place, a place that Herzl, and Weizmann, and Ben-Yehuda, and countless other brave, dedicated Jews would be moved by. The vision of these dreamers has become a reality. Israel is the only country, the only state, that is governed by Jews and lived in by a Jewish majority. It is the only country that sounds a siren to signal the start of Shabbat. Is is the only country that houses Jews of all countries and denominations, walking together on streets thousands of years old. It is the only country wherein the majority of restaurants are kosher and the households are kosher. In Israel, the majority of businesses close on Shabbat (our Shabbat) and Jewish holidays (the official holidays) are celebrated by millions of people in cities across this little strip of land. Israel is, in so many ways, a Jewish dream.
This does not mean that we gloss over Israel’s troubles, its factions, its crises. If Israel is to survive, if it is to enrich the world as Herzl had hoped, then much work is to be done. That is why tonight, we no longer need to dream of Israel, but we must dream for Israel.
Let us dream for peace. Let us dream for a time when Israeli and Arab, Muslim and Jew, are no longer divided by their differences, but united in their commonalities.
Let us dream for prosperity. May Jews always, be they Midas or the mendicant, find a home in Israel, where they will be supported, nurtured, and allowed to succeed.
Let us dream for unity. May Jews of all belief systems, from the reformist of reform, to the most ultra of orthodox, be recognized as a Jew.
Let us dream for guidance. Just as we are guided by the principles of tikkun olam, may Israel too be so guided.
Let us dream…
There is a beautiful song in Israel that includes the verse “Anachnu ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim ve’ein lanu al mi lehisha’en, ela ela al avinu, avinu shebashamaim.” Translated, this means:
“We are believers the children of dreamers, and we have no one else to rely upon but our God in heaven.” For Israelis, and for diaspora Jews who have experienced the power of Israel, these words will always ring true. It is in that spirit that tonight, as we celebrate Israel, as we dream for Israel, I invite all of you to rise as I recite the priestly benediction for us and the people of Israel:
Y’var-ekh’cha A-do-nai v’yeesh’m’recha:
Ya-eir A-do-nai pa-nav ei-ley-cha vee-chu-nei-cha:
Yee-sa A-do-nai pa-nav ei-lay-cha v’ya-sem l’cha sha-lom:
May God bless you and protect you:
May God show you kindness and be gracious to you:
May God bestow favor upon you and grant you peace:
May this be God’s will.