These past weeks I have been reflecting on the unfortunate linkage of the Holocaust and the State of Israel. Let me explain. Many people argue, or imply, that Israel represents recompense for the suffering the Jewish people endured during the Shoah. The State of Israel implied this when it rightfully tried and executed Adolf Eichmann fifty years ago. (By the way this week’s burial at sea of Osama bin Laden was eerily similar to Eichmann’s.)
President Obama also gave voice to this linkage when he said, two years ago in Cairo: “America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.” Our enemies as well recognize the importance our minds ascribe to this connection. This is partly why Iran and Hamas exert so much effort in denying the Holocaust. They believe to deny this murder of six million Jews is to undermine the legitimacy of the modern State of Israel.
It is of course undeniable that had the State of Israel existed 78 years ago the suffering of Europe’s Jews would have been significantly ameliorated. The Holocaust might even have been prevented. Certainly there would have been a state that would have stood up and defended our people! Most certainly there would have been a country that would have welcomed those of our people fleeing persecution! Far less would have been murdered. Fewer people would have suffered.
Yet the State of Israel is not about justice for the Holocaust. Those scales can never be righted. Israel is instead about an end to Jewish homelessness. It is about our return home. Now we no longer wander. Now we always have a home.
One might find this strange for an American Jew to say this. How can I affirm a home where I do not (yet) live? An analogy. I live in a community where many people are privileged enough to own two homes. Do they love one less than the other? Likewise we are privileged to live at an unprecedented time when there is a sovereign Jewish state. All Jews are today blessed to own two homes. And so I believe that there is room enough in our hearts for more than one home. Why must a choice be implied: Israel or America? Why can’t we love two homes?
Yet we are so afraid of loving Israel as our home and claiming it as the Jewish homeland that we paint it as the answer to our people’s suffering in the Holocaust. We justify its existence by speaking about past injustices and tragic persecutions. We raise money and support for Israel by speaking of the continued threats Israel faces and the suffering it continues to endure. These threats and suffering are of course very real. But they must not become justification for the State of Israel. Why do our hearts only pour out love in the face of a parade of victims rather than the beauty of what is indeed our home?
So say this instead about the Jewish state. Proclaim this about Medinat Yisrael: I have two homes. One in which I spend most of my days. The other I visit as often as possible. Both I love with all my heart and soul.
That should be all the reason you need to celebrate Israel’s 63 years!