Realization of a dream

Rabbi Joshua Ginsberg
Rabbi Joshua Ginsberg

By Rabbi Joshua Ginsberg, Beth Abraham Synagogue, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

A rebbe and his devoted disciple were on a journey.

Night was falling as they passed a forest, so they had to stop, make camp, and set up a tent for the night. After they got their tent all set up, both men fell sound asleep.

Some hours later, the student woke the rabbi and said, “Rabbi, look toward the sky. What do you see?”

The rabbi replied, “I see millions of stars.”

“What does that tell you?” asked the disciple.

The rabbi pondered for a minute then stroked his beard and said, “Astronomically speaking, it tells me there are millions of galaxies. Time wise, it’s a quarter past three in the morning. Theologically, Hashem is all powerful, and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. And turning dreamily toward his pupil, the rabbi asked, and what does it tell you, my son?”

“Shmendrick!” yells the Chasid. “It tells me that somebody stole our tent!”

To be a Jew is to be a dreamer, to overlook the harsh realities of the moment and see past them to the stars. Arguably the greatest Jewish dreamer was Theodor Herzl, who by the force of his personality, indomitable spirit, brilliant mind and political connections, almost single-handedly created modern Zionism.

Despite being ridiculed and dismissed by many Jewish leaders of his time, on Aug. 29, 1897 he convened a group of nearly 200 Jewish delegates from all over the world in Basel, Switzerland for the First Zionist Congress.

Afterward Herzl wrote in his diary:

“If I were to sum up the Basel Congress in a single phrase I would say: In Basel I created the Jewish state. Were I to say this aloud I would be greeted by universal laughter. But perhaps five years hence, in any case, certainly 50 years hence, everyone will perceive it.”

Almost exactly 50 years to the day of that entry, on May 14, 1948 (Iyar 5, 5708) the state of Israel was born.

Herzl had big dreams for Israel, as he states in the conclusion of his book The Jewish State: “The Jews who wish for a state will have it. We shall live at last as free people 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. And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.”

Herzl’s vision continues to grow and develop with each passing year.

In 66 years, Israel has surpassed the dreams of its founders, emerging as the prosperous homeland for the Jewish people.

At Israel’s independence in 1948, the country consisted of 650,000 people. Today, Israel’s population has multiplied 10 times over, absorbing Jews from all corners of the globe, including Holocaust survivors from Europe, Jews expelled from Arab countries, Ethiopian and Russian immigrants.

This makes Israel the largest immigrant-absorbing nation on earth relative to its population. Despite the challenges involved in absorbing these different population groups — including major political, cultural and religious differences — the ADL’s Abraham Foxman observes that Israel has rarely succumbed to internal violent conflict.

Even more amazing, Israel has miraculously grown from a “third-world” country with a tiny economy, existing on a small slip of mostly rocky desert, into a highly developed nation with a first-class economy that has made the desert bloom.

Israel today is one of the fastest growing, dynamic, entrepreneurial and innovation based start-up nations in the world. Little Israel, with less than 1/1000th of the world’s population, has the largest number of startup companies in proportion to its population than any other country except the United States.

Israel, known as the Silicon Wadi, creates and exports cutting edge medical, computer, agricultural, and military and security technology used around the globe.

Remarkably, Israel ranks 16th among the world’s 187 nations and territories on the U.N.’s Human Development Index, has the highest ratio of university degrees to population in the entire world, produces more scientific papers per capita than any other nation, and since its founding in 1948, Israel has had more Nobel Prize winners per capita than any other country.

As David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of the state of Israel aptly said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”

“What (truly) sets Israel apart from so many other nations,” Foxman notes, “is its desire and ability to help others in need.”

For example, following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Israel had one of the first rescue teams on the ground, and operated the only fully functioning field hospital in the country.

Last year, Israel sent 150 IDF personnel, comprising national search-and-rescue unit officials and senior doctors in the medical corps, to provide care for the casualties of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Of the hundreds of thousands of Syrian casualties from Syria’s three-year civil war, more than 700 wounded — including children and the elderly — have been treated in Israel, in an IDF high-tech field hospital in the Golan Heights. Here is what one rebel fighter being treated at the facility said:

“They taught us about the Zionist enemy, the Zionist oppressor; but when we saw the Zionists (we realized), they were nothing like what we’d been told. They’re human beings just like us, human, and even more than that.”

Many Israeli-Arabs would say the same, despite some outstanding issues of inequality. Guess who graduated first in last year’s medical school class at Technion, Israel’s MIT?

The answer may surprise you, writes Diana Bletter for the Huffington Post: “It’s a 27-year-old stereotype-buster: a charming, feminist, smart, open-minded and observant Islamic woman named Mais Ali-Saleh who grew up in a small village outside of Nazareth, in Israel’s Galilee.”

As Ben-Gurion dreamed about his newly found nation, “In our state…(non-Jews) will be equal citizens; equal in everything without any exception; that is: the state will be their state as well.”

Ben-Gurion understood that to be a Jew is to be a dreamer; to overlook the harsh realities of the moment and see past them to the stars.

This may be the reason why Israel is one of the happiest countries in the world, despite the fact that Israel has been in a perpetual state of war — or under the threat of war — since it declared independence in May 1948.

Yet, the World Happiness Report released by Columbia University’s Earth Institute ranked Israel the 11th-happiest country, according to the survey of 156 countries. This puts Israel just behind their mates in Australia and ahead of our own country coming in at 17th, and way ahead of all its neighbors in the Middle East.

Theodor Herzl said, “Im tirtzu, ein zo aggadah, if you will it, it need not remain a dream.” The dream can become a reality.

What an amazing reality it is. Just because Israel still faces many critical challenges, this should not invalidate the miracle of the dream realized; it just means that it is time for the next dream to be realized — the dream of peace that will take Israel to the next level.

Let’s raise a glass of world-class Israeli wine and toast to 66 spectacular years and many, many more. L’chaim!

To read the complete May 2014 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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