Rabbi's Message, Rabbi Alvin Kass, May 2016
Rabbi Alvin Kass
Chief Chaplain of the NYPD
HAPPY 68TH BIRTHDAY, ISRAEL
All of us look forward with tremendous anticipation to the annual celebration of Israel's birthday. As Israel prepares for its 68th year of independence, we wish that peace and good will would at long last come to that troubled area of the world. We long for joy that will be boundless and merrymaking that will be limitless. Alas, that is not to be. For even as we rejoice over the existence of the State of Israel, there is a mood of deep concern, anxiety, and even melancholy that violence and hatred roil the Middle East more than ever.
Legitimate and proper apprehension over continuing enmity, however, should not be allowed to obscure the many real achievements of the State and the multitudinous reasons for our hearts to be overflowing with gratitude to Almighty God. First and foremost, with all its problems and imperfections, we do have a Jewish homeland, a place where Jews from all over the world can come with the knowledge that they will receive a warm and eager welcome. Never again will a Jew be a man without a country. Not only has the Jew been reborn, but the land itself has also been reborn. What had been a barren wilderness for many hundreds of years is now a green, flourishing, fertile, and productive country. The people of Israel have also rejuvenated their language and their culture.
The Hebrew tongue which had been the private preserve for almost two millennia of the scholar and sage is now the property of the whole people, spoken by taxi-driver and taxidermist, the merchant and the mason, the physician and the plumber, the man in the street and the university professor. What's more, this humane and cultural society functions within a wholly democratic framework, the only democracy in the entire Middle East.
By every conceivable standard, this country has succeeded magnificently; every standard, that is, but one – Jew hatred. Israel has not solved the deeprooted enmity toward the Jews that goes back to the very beginnings of our history. If anything, hostility toward the Jew today is more intense than it has ever been. But having a State of our own gives us a tremendous advantage over all previous generations.
We no longer cower in fear before the enemy. We give back what we get, and then some. It would be nice if we lived in a world without enemies; but, if we have to have them, it is infinitely better to be strong, capable, and prepared than to slink away in trepidation.
The greatest danger from our enemies is not that they will destroy the State; but that in defending ourselves against them they will make us like them.
If we emulate their brutality, barbarism and cruelty, then they will in truth have become the victors even if the Holy Land remains under Jewish sovereignty.
There is but one answer to hatred, the answer given to us by Isaac when he returned to the place where Abraham had dug wells to sustain his life. Isaac restored those wells and prospered greatly when the Philistines ordered him to leave. They proceeded to destroy Isaac's wells and started a war. Isaac, however, would not acquiesce to Philistine aggression.
He called the place Esek (i.e., strife) and dug new wells. The Philistines devastated those wells too, and intensified their hatred. Nevertheless, Isaac remained undaunted. He called this place Sitnah (i.e. , hatred) and persisted in digging more wells until ultimately, the Philistines refrained from bothering him. Isaac then called the place Rehovot, “for now the Lord hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful on the land! (Genesis 26:13-22.) ” Like Isaac, we too must hold out and continue to dig wells, springs of life. We must do that no matter how long it takes because we must have faith that eventually the impulse toward life and love will prevail. The worst thing we can do is succumb to the sadistic level of our enemies and allow them to suffocate all our positive and generous predispositions.
The Messiah is not here! Jew hatred still exists! That quite properly disturbs and worries us. But, thank God, we have the State of Israel; and that makes us better off than Jews have been for 2000 years. With all the difficulties and apprehensions we still have good reason to be happy and to make this 68th anniversary celebration of Israel's independence the biggest and best ever.