For religious Jews, Rosh Hashanah is traditionally a time to apply ourselves towards “Tshuva” – a form of self-critical introspection combined with a spiritual commitment to improve our ethical conduct in the forthcoming year. We also pray to the Almighty to watch over us and our loved ones and grant us Shana Tova – a good year.
Alas, in recent years, our masochistic tendencies have encouraged many of us to overlook the big picture and fail to appreciate the fundamentally positive reality of our current status. Some of us became so obsessed with the negative challenges confronting us, that instead of rejoicing, we exuded gloom and doom.
Of course our situation is far from being entirely rosy and today the Jewish nation state has become the surrogate for traditional anti-Semitism which is reflected in the intensifying global resentment and burning hatred directed against us.
We face the peril of a nuclear Iran led by religious extremists who openly proclaim their genocidal intentions. The proliferation of Islamic fundamentalism throughout the region is now even threatening the peace treaty with Egypt, potentially our most dangerous adversary. The combined power of the Islamic and rogue states has aggravated our isolation in the international arena.
Yet instead of radiating despair, after praying to return to Israel throughout the course of 2000 years of exile, during which time our forefathers endured uninterrupted cycles of discrimination, expulsion, persecution and murder, we should surely be exuberant for being privileged to live in our own homeland at the height of the Jewish renaissance.
We should rejoice that in the wake of the great tragedy and horror of the Holocaust, we rose like a phoenix from the ashes of the Holocaust, resurrected our nationhood and witnessed an ingathering of exiles from all corners of the world.
We can take pride that a combination of impoverished Holocaust survivors, Jewish refugees from Islamic countries, former Soviet Jews and a diverse mélange of religious, racial, social and ethnic Jews from all corners of the globe found haven in Israel and were molded and integrated into a robust nation. We should celebrate that the highly symbolic number of 6 million Jews now reside in Israel.
We should be celebrating the fact that today we have overcome powerlessness and that the IDF provides us with the capacity to defeat a combined onslaught against us from all our adversaries.
We generated a vibrant culture and transformed Hebrew into a dynamic living language, which until only a few hundred years ago was restricted to Jewish prayer, ancient texts and Jewish scholarship. We created universities and Nobel Prize laureates far in excess proportion to our numbers. We are today indisputably the center for Jewish scholarship and there is more Torah learning here than what existed in pre–war Europe.
Despite being surrounded by neighbors seeking our destruction, we forged a Jewish state which retained its democratic ethos. Since its inception, all citizens enjoy “complete equality of social and political rights” and “freedom of religion and conscience, language, education and culture”. We promote gender equality with particular emphasis to the rights of women. We boast a society based on law in which presidents and prime ministers are held to higher standard of the law than the man in the street – no mean achievement.
There remain of course, a host of challenges yet to overcome. The ultra-Orthodox segment still needs to be integrated within the framework of the civic and economic infrastructure of the state. However, recent public and political pressure provide grounds for hope that in the near future most Haredim will become productive elements in society as well as implementing their civic obligations by serving in the IDF or undergoing a form of national service.
The great ethnic divide between Ashkenazim and Sephardim has largely been overcome. Ethiopian olim currently still face considerable problems but in the course of another generation hopefully they too, will be integrated.
Israeli Arabs, who comprise 20% of the population, pose the greatest challenge. Whilst undoubtedly enjoying a higher standard of living and far greater freedom than their kinsman in neighboring Islamic states, they remain the weakest socio-economic group in the country and suffer a high level of unemployment.
The majority are law abiding citizens and have no desire to emigrate to a future Palestinian state. Many are profoundly embarrassed and distressed with the extremists and radicals within their midst who they realize are the principal cause of increasing prejudice being leveled against them.
Ironically, this was indirectly aided and abetted by Israel’s policy of excessive tolerance of treasonable public outbursts by Israeli Arab MKs sanctifying murder and suicide bombers and openly supporting those committed to the destruction of the state. No other democracy, especially a country under siege, would tolerate such behavior.
Israel’s economy is an extraordinary success story. With limited natural resources and an ingathering of the exiles comprised primarily of penniless refugees, Israel, which was basically arid land, has bloomed and emerged as one of the most resilient economies in the world. Our scientific and technological achievements are exceptional and we represent the second most advanced hi-tech startup nation in the world, exceeded only by the United States.
Binyamin Netanyahu’s initiative in 2005 to persuade Stanley Fischer, one of the most talented economists in the world, to accept the role of Governor of the Bank of Israel was a master stroke. It largely contributed towards Israel being one of the very few countries which, until now, has averted a recession despite the global economic meltdown and hopefully will also enable us to minimize the painful effects we must endure in the coming year as a consequence of the ongoing downturn in Europe. Of course, there is also room for improvement and the constructive element within the social protest movement reflects the desire for greater equality.
We still face great challenges externally having lost the “sympathy” of many nations of the world, which in 1967 were preparing to weep for us in the belief that we were confronting annihilation. In contrast, today much of the global hatred against us emanates from the fact that we are no longer an underdog as well as resentment of the IDF ability to defend us from the barbarians at our gates. If forced to choose between enjoying the world sympathy by being powerless victims or finding ourselves globally isolated, because of our capacity to defend ourselves, most of us would unhesitatingly choose the latter.
We must not become blasé or take our blessings for granted. However, as we move towards 5773, if we take into account our incredible achievements, we surely have every reason to celebrate that our nation has emerged as the most extraordinary and miraculous success story of the past century. Above all, we should thank the Almighty and rejoice that we are the generation blessed to be living in a Jewish State.
Am Yisrael Hai and Shana Tova.