Friday, April 28, 2023

Israel at 75

"Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land? Palestine is no more of this work-day world. It is sacred to poetry and tradition – it is dream-land. The further we went the hotter the sun got, and the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became…There was hardly a tree or a shrub any where. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country". Mark Twain , Innocents Abroad, 1867 כֹּה אָמַר יְיָ צְבָאוֹת עֹד יֵשְׁבוּ זְקֵנִים וּזְקֵנוֹת בִּרְחֹבוֹת יְרוּשָׁלָ ִם וְאִישׁ מִשְׁעַנְתּוֹ בְּיָדוֹ מֵרֹב יָמִים: וּרְחֹבוֹת הָעִיר יִמָּלְאוּ יְלָדִים וִילָדוֹת מְשַׂחֲקִים בִּרְחֹבֹתֶיהָ: There shall yet be old men and old women sitting in the broad places of Jerusalem, every man with his staff in his hand for every age. And the broad places of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the broad places thereof. (Zecharia 8:4) The description from Mark Twain about the Land of Israel referred to as Palestine, provides us with a snapshot of how Israel looked a mere 150 years ago. Then, it was desolate, depressing and projected the feeling of an abandoned country. It is with that context that one can appreciate the prophecy of Zecharia, who declared thousands of years ago that we, as a people, would return to our homeland after being in exile for a prolonged period. The mere thought of ever returning to our land, let alone having children playing in the streets, was sheer fantasy. The fantasy of the past has turned into the reality of today. Regardless of anyone's views on Zionism and how it intersects with the coming of the Mashiach, one cannot deny the modern-day miracle of the Jewish People returning to their ancient homeland. A hundred years ago, in 1922, there were under 84,000 Jews living in the Land of Israel. Today in 2023, there are over 7 million Jews in Israel!! Considering the entire Jewish population in the world is just about 15 million, Israel currently has more than half of the global Jewish population. The number of Jews worldwide, including in the United States, continue to decline for various reasons, and assimilation is the most prominent factor. The numbers in Israel continue to grow in the opposite direction as more and more Jews worldwide are finding their way back to their ancestral homeland. On a spiritual level, it is estimated today that there are over 3000 yeshivas or centers for advanced Jewish learning. The Mir Yeshiva alone has over 9,200 students and over 800 students in its largest daily shiur. In addition, there are countless shuls and minyan factories in every city, town, and neighborhood. The proliferation of Judaism and Jewish life is nothing less than breathtaking and miraculous. Recent events have highlighted the divisions that exist within Israeli society over proposed judicial reforms. No doubt, this is unsettling as people tend to focus on issues that divide one another and not the things that unite us. The Achilles heel of the Jewish People has been our inability to focus on the things that unite us. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail and this controversy works itself out without too much collateral damage. Another thing to ponder is that while one cannot be naive about some tension and controversy between religious and secular factions in Israel, it's important to note the universal Jewish character of the modern Jewish state. For example, El Al does not fly on Shabbos or Yom Tov since it was state-owned for years, and the state prohibited it from operating on these holy days. Now, that is many days to give up revenue and forfeit customers to your competition. A company or country can only do that if they have values; in this case, there is a country that has a value for Shabbos. I am sure someone will be able to point out many unsavory things about the Israeli government and establishment. Still, on this particular day, I am forever grateful to G-d for increasing the Jewish population in Eretz Yisroel from 84,000 to 7 million in the last century and for bringing His children home. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

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