It was 125 years ago when Theodor Herzl, in his book Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews), envisioned a sovereign nation for the Jewish people. Six years later, in his novel Altneuland (The Old New Land), he added more depth and detail to his vision:
“It would be immoral if we would exclude anyone, whatever his origin, his descent, or his religion, from participating in our achievements. For we stand on the shoulders of other civilized peoples….”
Herzl believed his vision could be realized for it was in this same book that he wrote, “If you will it, it is no dream.” Forty-four years after his death, Israel’s Declaration of Independence was signed and to this day Herzl is referred to as “the prophet of the Jewish State.”
Yet, neither Herzl’s dream nor that of David Ben-Gurion and the 36 signatories to that historic document has been fully realized as it was written:
The State of Israel “will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture […]” (Declaration of Independence)
Although we are hard-pressed to see how these goals can be achieved under current conditions, from Herzl’s perspective the question we should be asking is not if but when this vision will be realized. With the ingenuity and determination of the Jewish people, it is still possible.
In a few days, we will observe Yom HaZikaron, the day on which we remember those who gave their lives for the sake of this vision and those whose lives were cut short by the conflict since the creation of the state. On this solemn day, as we mourn the tragic loss of life we cannot help but consider how much was unnecessary, how much could have been avoided with a diplomatic solution. And we sadly anticipate the grief of what is yet to come in the absence of a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
Thus, on the following day, when we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, we should recommit ourselves to Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the ideals it enshrines.
We know that the vast majority of American Jews are with us. And when we as American Jews unite around the vision of Israel’s founders and pull the legacy Jewish institutions along with us, we can provide the necessary support for our elected leaders to do their part to ensure US pro-active support for a diplomatic solution.
J Street is the most vital and vocal US advocate for a Jewish and Democratic State. With growing numbers of like-minded Americans recognizing this reality and lending their support, we will be able to exert the influence needed to realize Herzl’s vision.
If you are a rabbi or cantor who supports a diplomatic resolution to the conflict in the Middle East — a solution that honors the right to self-determination for Palestinians and Jews — it is vitally important that you attend and promote J Street’s upcoming conference. And now that the conference is virtual, due to COVID, attendance involves neither travel nor cost!
Your participation is the most definitive statement you can make in support of Israel as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people and it will send a clear message to those who either remain on the sidelines of the conversation or cannot see yet that being pro-Israel demands that we be proactively pro-peace.
The message is simply this: if we will it and work at it, such a future is no dream.