A free people in our land?

Israel is a successful and democratic country, but have the Jews become a normal people?

Menachem Ben-Mordechai,

OpEds Menachem Ben Mordechai
Menachem Ben Mordechai

"To be a free people in our land,” the national anthem of Israel declares. Does today's Israel fulfill the words of hope composed by Naphtali Herz Imber in the nineteenth century?

This is the time of Yom Ha'atzmaut, commemorating the Jewish nation's re-establishment in the wake of the Holocaust. Approximately one percent of Israel's population died to attain sovereignty again, refuting malicious claims about Judaism's demise.

As Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt”lobserved of the climate before 1948:

"The mere fact, after the Second World War, of Medinas Yisrael, intentionally or unintentionally, stopped the tidal wave of shmad. I met missionaries on the trains, they used to come over--to me they didn't do any harm, but they used to come over to others as well. This is exactly what the Gospel said, all of the predictions of the sonai Yisraelyimach shemom, came true—that's what they used to say...Medinas Yisrael was the shield by HaKadosh Baruch Hu to stop this kind of gossip about the end of Yahadus."

Two major themes in modern Zionism were the “negation of the Diaspora” (shelilat ha-gola) and the normalization of Jewish life. The political philosopher Leo Strauss wrote, "Political Zionism has repeatedly characterized itself as the will to normalize the existence of the Jewish people, to normalize the Jewish people.”

When one considers Jewish life in Israel today, however, despite the unbelievable successes in many fields - and the fact that polls show that most Jews in Israel are happy  - there are aspects of life here which do not lend themselves to a feeling of normalization.

"In recent weeks, a number of swastikas were spray-painted in various places throughout Petah Tikva,” a report from April notes, with previous desecrations including a synagogue

A parent in nearby Lod has described children “attacked with curses and physical violence...cases that sound like they were taken from 1939 Austria." 

Similar brazen anti-Semitism occurred after January's truck ramming attack in Jerusalem that murdered four soldiers. A mother in Armon Hanatziv posted a video of fireworks celebrating the carnage and commented:

"The celebrations continue for the second night after the terrorist attack. Fireworks and 4 Molotov cocktails aimed at soldiers, that stand by and do not retaliate. There is also fire in the street. What you don't see? The homes to the right, that must hear the fireworks, like bombs, night after night, children can't sleep and wake up to the reality of hate." (On being unable to sleep, a resident of Jerusalem recently stated concerning the proposed muezzin law, "I live in north Jerusalem, and the amount of decibels that come of out of the multiple mosques whose loudspeakers are turned to the direction of the Jewish areas is nothing short of psychological warfare.")

    This dysfunctional situation corresponds to general anxiety expressed by a number of Israelis. “I live in fear,” a parent said in March about driving in their area. Similar accounts periodically appear.

    Is this the normal Jewish life Zionism was hoping to create?

    Each year, Israel grows in fields like technology and health. In fulfillment of its founding vision, may it also grow in sovereignty and freedom.