In just a few days, we will celebrate the milestone 75th birthday of the State of Israel.
This past summer, when we were in Jerusalem, we attended a powerful lecture on the Zionist Idea, given by Yehuda Kurtzer, the President of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.
Yehuda reminded us how our gift of collective imagination as a Jewish people has sustained and enlivened us throughout our history. In times of destruction, trauma, and dislocation, we have articulated and held fast to creative visions of a Jewish future, from our first exile from ancient Israel to today.
Our courage to dream was the seed for the State of Israel. We boldly dreamed our way back to our historic homeland, our safe haven. Remembering our track record of turning dreams into realities, Yehuda argued that it is vital that the Jewish people continue to see Zionism and Israel as places for us to dream together.
On May 14th, 1948, Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion read aloud Israel’s Megillat Ha-Atzmaut, its Declaration of Independence, articulating a powerful vision for what a Jewish and Democratic state could look like. This text makes a commitment that the State of Israel will “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex, [and] guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture.”
In a recent statement, the Chancellor of JTS, Dr. Shuly Rubin Schwartz wrote:
“And what democracy demands was laid out as clearly as possible by none other than the revisionist Zionist leader Zev Jabotinsky:
‘It is an incorrect view which states that government supported by the majority is democracy… . Even a government of majority rule can negate freedom; and where there are no guarantees for freedom of the individual, there can be no democracy.’
Jabotinsky continues, saying ‘the aim of democracy is to guarantee that the minority too has influence on matters of state policy.’
The majoritarianism that Jabotinsky flagged as inimical to democracy is exactly what is being proposed today and what is motivating Israelis to pour into the streets.”
For the past sixteen weeks, each Saturday night, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have poured into the streets to keep alive the dream of democracy in Israel. They are rising up to protect social and political rights, and freedom for all the inhabitants of Israel, of every religious identity, race and gender. Their presence is a reminder that we have not lost hope in what is possible.
In honor of Israel’s 75th birthday, let us support those struggling for democracy, religious pluralism, freedom and justice.
Let us promise never to stop dreaming together.