The modern state of Israel is six decades 60-years-old, yet she seems so young. When walking the land, living the Israeli life, or thinking of her recent accomplishments, its hard to believe Israel is only 60.
Sixty is half the years of the ideal Jewish birthday wish, may you live to be 120. Our wish, of course, is for Israel to live to 120 and beyond, far into the future.
It is at this time that we pause, since a birthday is a time to look at the past 60 years with gratitude and appreciation, as well as an opportunity to take stock of past mistakes and disappointments. It is also a time to look ahead and ask, or imagine and dare to dream what the next 60 years will hold?
Understanding the land of Israel has always been a bit of a complicated business. Beginning with our first interaction with the land, way beyond 60 years ago, when Moses sent 12 scouts to spy out the land, 10 returned caricaturing the land of Israel, misunderstanding her and feeling fearful. Only two, Caleb and Joshua, returned bravely, positive and hopeful about the land of Israel. And so it remains until this very day, a complicated business.
The 10 spies who returned from the land of Israel disillusioned and negative were punished. Thus, we understand they were wrong. Caleb and Joshua, however, were rewarded for standing their ground; for not getting dragged down by the popular, negative and bitter report of the other spies.
Caleb and Joshua are our teachers in trying to build a positive relationship with the land of Israel. As difficult as she may be to understand at certain times, instead of indicting her we must, as Caleb and Joshua did, try to understand the land of Israels complexity and recognize her astonishing potential for holiness, beauty and blessing.
In Judaism there is a concept of sanctifying a person, of sanctifying time, and of the sanctity of a place. This would be the land of Israel a place where living as a Jew is qualitatively different from living Jewishly anywhere else in the world. The land of Israel reflects our kedushat ha-makom our sanctified dwelling place.
More simply, as Israelis like to say, ze ha-bayit. This is home. Its family. Its nice to travel and be exposed to other ways of life, other peoples, other families. This is truly enriching. But at the end of the day, you just want to be home, with all the problems, and thats what Israel is. A home for the Jewish people.
The story of modern Israel is an epic still unfolding. Israel is, on the one hand, a series of wars and survival and suffering; and, on the other, a series of attempts at strength, resilience and grace.
Israel began as a way to change the reality of the Jewish people being a repressed minority, discriminated against, to being a majority in our historic land. In our generation, we have been privileged to enter the promised land.
And yet, there is so much that is still incomplete there. There is so much repair, interpersonally, spiritually and politically, still to be done.
To live as an Israeli today is to live suffused with the holiness, blessing, sophistication, modernity and fruits of the land, but also with the pain and suffering of the conflict Israel is embroiled in.
My hope and prayer for the next 60 years of Israel would be to shrink the wide gulf between the religious and secular and all their various ethnic communities, to build bridges amongst the various religious communities, and somehow to find a way to learn to live with our neighbors, the Palestinians.
Unlike any other enemy of ours in history, they too, are our family distant cousins perhaps, but family nonetheless.
My vision for the next 60 years? For Israel to continue on her incredible journey that has made her the tour de force she is, and to grow proudly as our G-d-given Jewish homeland.
In the meantime, to the next 60 years, till 120!
Happy Birthday, Israel!