Today, Israel and the Jewish world observe Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s national Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism. The State of Israel paused for two minutes at exactly 11:00 a.m. as a siren wailed to mark the beginning of Yom Hazikaron’s ceremonies. Israel and the Jewish world mourn the nation’s 23,085 fallen soldiers and terror victims who have fallen since 1860. (This past year 92 Israelis were added to this terrible statistics)
Last week, on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, Israeli TV broadcast a documentary about contemporary anti-Semitism in developed countries. Seventeen percent of the British and 24 percent of the French public hold anti-Semitic views, and in the U.S., 31 percent believe that the Jews killed Jesus. Sixty-five years after the establishment of the State of Israel, classic anti-Semitism is disguised by anti-Zionist and anti-Israel views.
Last Monday, 70 years after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, my 14-year-old daughter asked me the hardest question of all: Why? Why is the world against us? What did we do to deserve such hatred, such contempt? I ask myself this very question again and again. So many countries around the world demonstrate racism, discrimination and violence against women, corruption and other social problems. Yet, Israel is criticized again and again by so-called progressive individuals and governments.
Tomorrow we will celebrate 65 years of independence, an independence that is a result of our joint, ongoing efforts. One of the most inspiring moments in my professional career was during my shlichut. David, my chair said, “We built Israel.” He immediately stopped, and asked: “Why am I saying we; it was the Israelis who did the work.” Then he paused again and corrected himself: “Yes, it was us, all of us together that built the Jewish State.” That conversation has stayed with me ever since. We built the State of Israel and we have so much to be thankful for. Tomorrow Israel and the Jewish world will celebrate this miraculous creation. It’s hard to imagine that it was only 65 years ago that the state of Israel was established, with only 650,000 Jews living in the newborn country. Since that Friday afternoon, on May 14, 1948, Israel has grown in so many ways; relative to its population, Israel is the largest immigrant-absorbing nation on earth.
On this holy day of Yom Hazikaron and tomorrow’s festive Day of Independence, I would suggest looking into the numerous reasons Israel has given us to be proud. Israel is known for its outstanding achievements in agriculture, computer sciences, electronics, genetics, medicine, optics, solar energy and various fields of engineering. Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange than any countries outside the United States and Canada with over 50 companies, and two Israeli companies are listed on the Nasdaq-100 index: Check Point Software and Perrigo. On top of that, Israel has the largest number of startup companies of any country in the world, except the US.
Israel is home to major players in the high-tech industry and has one of the world’s most technologically-literate populations with the highest number of scientists, technicians, and engineers per capita in the world. In 1998, Tel Aviv was named by Newsweek as one of the ten most technologically influential cities in the world.
The World Wide Web is rich and full with sites listing Israel’s contributions to the world, statistics and figures that reflect the country’s achievements. Before all, we should be proud of Israel’s global tikkun olam initiatives and human contributions to the world. Israel is one of the first countries to offer medical aid in times of natural disaster and doesn’t let political disputes overcome human decency. As a result, Israel offers free medical treatment to Syrian citizens injured while escaping the war and to Palestinians in need of advanced care. Our enemies may claim this is our weakness; I believe this is our greatest strength.
Is this why anti-Semitism, or its new form anti-Zionism, flourishes in modern countries? Because with everything the Jewish people have been through, they managed together to build a successful state that is the homeland of Jews around the world? Are we persecuted because we won’t give up, continue to develop, create and lead in technology, agriculture and other fields? The answer is probably more complicated, but the reality of increasing anti-Semitism should both alarm us and encourage us to flourish, excel and stand out in our morality, humanity and values, and above all, be united in pride with our Jewish State.
In 1944 David Ben Gurion wrote: “The meaning of the Jewish revolution is contained in one word- independence. Independence for the Jewish people in its homeland… Independence, too, means more than political and economic freedom, it involves also the spiritual, moral and intellectual realms, and in essence, it is independence in the heart, in sentiment, and in will.”
May the memory of the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism be forever blessed.
“May we all be a free people in our land. The land of Zion and Jerusalem.”
- HaTikvah, Israel’s National Anthem