Last week, we paid tribute to the survivors among us as well as to those whom our people had lost during the Shoah. It was particularly moving because we could mark this jointly with our companions of the Iranian congregation with whom we share these walls. Next week, we plan to pay tribute to the people of Israel with a guest speaker and singing and dancing.
Every look back, is, in Jewish thought, a prompt to a look forward. I recall that twenty years ago, we held a similar commemoration, and among those who had an Aliyah that day was the brother of one who lived in the headquarters building of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Mila 18;someof you may recall the Leon Uris book of the same name. The following week, as I said, looking forward, we celebrated the Bat Mitzvah of that same man’s grand-niece. From past, we move to future.
It is amazing to realize how many people wish still, that the Jewish people would just go away, not bother the world any more. Rhonda Fink Whitman, a journalist, went to the campus of a major university and asks students at random what they knew about the Holocaust. These students were perfectly bright and articulate, and completely ignorant. Not only did they not know of the Holocaust, they did not know what country was involved, did not know that Jews were killed, did not even know what World War II or who President Roosevelt was. You can see it for yourself on Youtube. What is worse is that our academicians, on campuses in the US, and in political movements in Europe, are swift to denounce Israel and call for the elimination of Israel, all the while, ignoring the suffering in Syria, the threat in Ukraine, the nuclear clown in North Korea, the crushing of the Tibetan culture by China, --believe me, the litany of disasters goes on— but for our “ enlightened” associates, these do not exist. Israel is the “Expletive” little country, as a French government official once said. Whattheyalso mean, often very clearly stated, is that the USis the “expletive” big country, Obama no different than Bush.
But, we, as Jews have had to deal with it, and overcome it. We have had to deal with the consequences of anti-Semitism in our psyches, in our minds, in the make up a Jewish child growing up before this generation.
Think of the great shaper of modern thought, Sigmund Freud--what event shaped him more than anything else? His experiments with Breuer, Charcot? His fight with Jung? His attempt at cure through cocaine?
One event stood out in Freud's mind, that shaped the nature of his psychoanalytic movement, the movement which shook the intellectual world.
When Freud was a youngster, an Austrian cavalry officer spied the young Freud together with his father walking down the street--and he forced the father off the sidewalk-he purposely humiliated his father in public-because he was a Jew. Freud was driven to make his psychoanalytic movement a power on the world scene in order to erase the humility he had felt at his father's disgrace as a Jew.
Today, we no longer need speak of the humiliation that a Jew must undergo. Today, we hopefully can speak of the Holocaust, the Shoah, in the past tense. Today, A Jewish youngster doesn't need to be driven by the threat of oppression or annihilation.
One fact has changed the Jewish mind-set, one fact has ended, once and for all, the sense of the Jew as victim, the Jew as helpless, the Jews as being held at the whim of a host people, whether for good or for bad.
That one fact is the creation of the State of Israel, and its success, in thriving, against all odds, now, this week. for 66 years since independence.
It is an Israel that has managed to face down far more powerful enemies, to the extent that the world assumes that Israel is a Goliath, and not a miniscule David.
Israel now faces the thorny question of how to very simply be quit and freed of the Palestinians, who have become an albatross around its neck. It has signed treaties with the PLO, withdrawn from most of the West bank, only to be forced back in to stop a wave of blood baths. It has withdrawn from southern Lebanon, only to be faced with a threat of tens of thousands of potent missles posed within spitting distance. Ity has withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, only to see it taken over by a Hamas movement sworn to the expulsion of every last Jew. It has been pushed into negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, only to see that same “partner” once again embrace Hamas in a unity government supposedly committed to peace that now includes partners committed to destruction.
Israel has had to deal with with a visceral hatred and deep resentment, not from the 2001 intifada, not from the Yom Kippur or the 6 Day War, but almost from the rise of Zionism. Someof you may have heard my comments last Saturday night, about the Sharif of Mecca, a century ago who called for a return of Jews to Palestine as “ brothers”. His voice was soon drowned out and a visceral a hatred dominated the Arab world that said, "Let Palestine remain a desert another hundred years rather than accept help from the Jews". The case was made, very firmly, when King Abdullah of the Trans-Jordan, was assassinated in Jerusalem in 1951, for planning to make peace with the new Israel. Anwar Sadat ended the same way, for the crime of bringing peace to Egypt.
I can expect other people to fail to understand what Israel is putting up on the bargaining table now, but we, as Jews, we must be aware of it most of all, and, sadly, we often forget.
I want to quote from an essay by Chicago columnist Mike Ryoko, which he wrote about 20 years ago, but which still rings true today,at the insanity with which the Arab world has been caught up in.:
"When I look at a world map, I sometimes wonder what the insane fuss in the Middle east is all about. If I look closely and squint my eyes, I can find a country that has about 8000 square miles.
To give you and idea how small that is, you could take about 40 Israels and put them together and the whole thing would still be smaller than the state of Texas. There may be counties, even ranches in Texas that are bigger. Then consider the population . There are many cities that have more population. You could put three times the population of Israel in Mexico city.
So we're talking about a mere speck on the map.
Syria, nine times as big with three times as many people; Iraq, 20 times as big ; Iran,80 times bigger .Put that part of the world together and there are millions of square miles with a population bigger that of the United State. And most of them, at one time or another, one way or another, with guns, tanks, terrorist or oil money, have tried to squash a country that isn't as big as Vermont.
They've spent the last 40 years( now 66) making themselves look like idiots by unsuccessfully trying to wage war on this itsy-bitsy country.
We keep hearing that the Palestinians must have their homeland. You'd think that with millions of square miles of vacant land, the Arabs could find them a homeland, the cheapskates. Jordan is right next door to Israel. It would make a fine homeland., That was the idea of creating Jordan in the first place. Lots of vacant land. Same climate. If they'd stop spending their oil money on bumbling wars, they could probably turn Jordan into something like Palm Springs,
Instead, we have these vast and in some cases wealthy countries now entering their fifth ( now 7th) decade of trying to take over a place you can barely find on this map.
It makes no sense. I mean, Israel doesn't even have one really good golf course."
Some twenty years have gone by since he wrote, and Israel does have at leastone decent golf course since then and there is a tenuous but strained peace with Egypt and Jordan. It helps that the Saudis now are silent allies with Israel against Iran, that Iraq is fragmented, that Syria is in a horrible death spiral. Thatis, what we call,” Hatzi Nechamah”. Half a consolation.
So, the other side is still the other side. Now, let’s focus on the achievements for the 66th anniversary, 69 years after the close of the greatest horror to befall the Jewish people..
Israel has been called the “ Start-up Nation.”
Cities have been built on sand dunes, swamps have been made into farms, ancient Jerusalem is once again a world center, the Hebrew language has been resurrected form the dead, Jews from over one hundred lands have been brought together and shaped into one people
Israel, which had to import much of its food in 1948, has become a major agricultural exporter. The nation, situated in one of the world's most arid regions, has innovative irrigation techniques. Lacking oil, Israel has focused on alternative energy sources, such as solar energy and nowit has hit upon huge gas reserves and maybe even oil.
Here is where you get your Intel computer chips, your generic pharmaceuticals, your cell-phone mapping system, and countless other items essential to modern technological civilization.
Even for all of Israel shortcomings,and pimples there are, there is a flourishing of Hebrew literature, arts, theater, even the old Torah culture, of Yeshivot and Rebbe's. For all its contentiousness and strife, the Israeli parliamentary system is the only working democratic system in the entire Middle East. The Arab Spring has come and turned to harsh Winter, but in Israel, the Knesset is still a viable and flourishing body, home to every crackpot of the extreme left and right, because it is a liberal and open democracy in which Arab Moslems and Christians can live safely without fear along side gay or Chasidic Jews. Walk over the line , to the Gaza strip, and see if that is possible there.
On this Shabbat, as we look back at the Jewish world of desolation and destruction before 1948, let us recall what Israel waa intended to be, and what it still means for us, whether we sit here or in Israel.
I quote form the Declaration of Independence of Israel of 1948,the fifth of Iyar, just two days from today, 66 years ago.
"The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual religious , and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.
The state of Israel will be open to the immigration of Jews from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the principals of liberty, justice, and peace as conceived by the prophets of Israel; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of religion, race or sex; will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, education, and culture; will safeguard the Holy places of all religions; and will loyally uphold the United Nations Charter.
We extend our hands in peace and neighborliness to all the neighboring states...to makes its contribution to the progress of the middle east as a whole.
Our call goes out to the Jewish people all over the world to rally to our side in the task of immigration and development and to stand by us in the great struggle for the fulfillment of the dream of generations for the redemption of Israel.”
Beautiful then; beautiful today.