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Israel Is About Tomorrow

People often return from trips to Israel and speak about the power of visiting its ancient sites. It is extraordinary to stand in what was once King David’s palace or to play in Ein Gedi’s waterfalls and read the psalms a young David penned when hiding from King Saul. Walking through such archeological sites one can also imagine the moment when the young king and Batsheva first saw each other from afar.

In Jerusalem, one can envision Abraham and Isaac walking those final steps before reaching Mount Moriah where the father was instructed to sacrifice his son. As I trace their path, I think to myself, did they speak? The Torah suggests they walked in silence, but I wonder, how could they not if it also states they were bound together as one. It was there that our ancestors built the holy Temple. All that remains is the Western Wall.

How many people touched these very same stones? How many people tried to reach this place, but died during what was once a perilous journey to the holy land? The medieval poet, Yehudah Halevi, famously wrote: “My heart is in the East, and I in the uttermost West…. A light thing would it seem to me to leave all the good things of Spain—Seeing how precious in mine eyes to behold the dust of the desolate sanctuary.” He died on his journey to Jerusalem.

And yet for all the history contained in Israel’s stones, for all our tradition’s words scribed in these very hills, this is not what I most celebrate. Today is Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day. 74 years ago, the modern State of Israel was founded when David ben Gurion proclaimed: “By virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, we hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael—the Land of Israel—to be known as Medinat Yisrael—the State of Israel.”

Israel is not so much about our history as much as it is about the present. Sure, it is about returning to our ancient roots, and the land where we first became a nation, but its present reality is what should stir the Jewish soul. When I visit Israel, and spend a few weeks in my beloved Jerusalem, I always make a point to make my way up the winding path that climbs from Sultan’s Pool below the Old City and make its way to Lion’s Gate through which Israeli soldiers recaptured the city and the Western Wall.

When I reach the top of the hill, I often stop and rather than push ahead to the Temple’s ruins, I turn around and with the Old City’s walls behind me, I look out and behold the new, and growing, city of Jerusalem. I can see the windmill of Yemin Moshe, the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the city’s walls in the late nineteenth century, and the Reform seminary where I first fell in love with Israel, and where Susie and I first met.

My soul is renewed.

This is our future.

If our people can achieve this in less than one hundred years, we can surmount any challenge and any struggle. This does not mean that I see perfection all around me. No nation is perfect. No country is without its missteps.

It means instead that I see hope.

Israel is about the Jewish people’s return to history. There we are masters of our own fate. This is what sovereignty entails.

And all those new buildings, and the cranes constructing so many new apartments, fills my heart with hope for the future.

I turn my back to the ancient ruins. And open my eyes to a new future filled with promise.

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