Today, Feb. 14 marks 121 years since the publication of Theodor Herzl’s landmark publication, Der Judenstaat, also known as “The Jewish State.” In it, Herzl envisioned the founding of a future independent Jewish state during the 20th century.
“The Jewish State” is considered one of the most important texts of early Zionism, where Herzl argues that the best way to avoid anti-Semitism in Europe is to create an independent Jewish state.
Fifty-two years later, Herzl’s vision became a reality when Israel was established as an independent nation – the most miraculous Jewish creation in modern days.
Miraculous as this creation may be, it is constantly challenged – by both internal debates and external conflicts. Those outside, question our very basic right to exist. To be.
Yet they are not the only voices of dissent. There are those who question the very limits of our sovereignty. And those voices do not come solely from outside our nation. The boundaries of what we as a sovereign state can or cannot do are being considered through a lens that doesn’t necessarily consider facts. Others judge us through narrow political interests, often ignoring what their own countries’ actions within and beyond their borders throughout history.
These past few weeks have been rough. Attempts to clarify our Jewish versus our democratic identity took shape as vocal demonstrations of all kinds. From the legitimacy to annex territories, to the painful need to evacuate Jews from these lands – as when 30 families were evacuated from Amona after days of harsh riots were just some expressions of this dichotomy. The ultra-Orthodox once again blocked highways to protest against the military police’s attempts to locate a draft dodger, part of the state’s attempt to apply the impetus of army duty equally. And a gallery that housed a controversial political organization was closed, yet another examination of free speech and its limits.
Being a sovereign state, one that recognizes the rights of all its citizens and assumes its place among the family of nations is a challenging, fascinating task with ongoing obstacles. Sometimes they even threaten our state’s very existence, but they also have the ability to raise us up, carry us as a nation, and help us find our unique identity based on core Jewish values of respecting humanity, grace, and justice.
Herzl’s call for sovereignty was a courageous one. His ability to see beyond the present was prophetic. He was able to rise above political interests and envision the future Jewish state. “The Jews who wish for a state will have it,” he wrote. “We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes. The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness.”
One of the greatest outcomes of being a sovereign is the notion that all Jews, whether in Israel or elsewhere, no matter how connected or disengaged, have a birthright to be part of our Jewish creation, to celebrate it and its symbols, and to cherish its heritage.
Or as Herzl wrote: “Therefore I believe that a wondrous generation of Jews will spring into existence. The Maccabeans will rise again.”
And the Maccabeans, in a very modern form, rose again.
This coming July, the Jewish world will celebrate for the 20th time the Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem. The world’s largest Jewish athletic completion emphasize the centrality of Israel to the Jewish people. Over 10,000 Jewish athletes from around world, and more than 70 delegations, including Ethiopia, Finland, and Thailand, to name a few of the less-expected participants, will march together at the opening ceremony.
As at every Maccabiah before, the JCC Movement will join the celebrations, cheering our own athletes from the United States and Canada – as well as Jewish athleticism from around the globe. We will put aside internal debates and arguments, and for two weeks focus on all that is great in our nation – the Jewish nation.
The Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem will feature men and women of all ages, colors, cultures and backgrounds, united in their love for sports, and pride in their Jewish culture. They will sing Hatikvah, our national anthem together, paying homage to Herzl’s dream, one that the Jewish people turned into a reality.
I invite you to join us this summer in Israel, trumpet our athletes, enjoy Israel’s most beautiful sites and be part of one of the most exciting moments the Jewish people can have together.
Read here to learn more about this special event or contact me directly.
Leah Garber, Vice President. Director, JCC Israel Center