Progressively Speaking: How should we celebrate Israel at 70?

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Progressively Speaking: How should we celebrate Israel at 70?

Rabbi Neil Janes asks how progressive Jews should mark Yom Ha'atzmaut

 Honi, a first century sage, famously fell asleep for 70 years. Waking, he found the trees he had planted were now fully grown, but he was not recognised by his descendants or disciples.

The Babylonian Talmud uses this story to understand the verse from Psalm 126: “When the Eternal one brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like dreamers.”

Honi wondered how the exiled slept for 70 years, from the destruction of the first Temple to their return to the land.

Just a few miles from Honi’s grave is the ancient village of Korazim, where, 70 years after the foundation of the state of Israel, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, also invoked this verse from psalms.

A full congregation of the Rosh Pinah Reform Community sat in the ruins of the fourth century synagogue at Korazim in early spring. There was standing room only as Rabbi Tlalit Shavit and musicians led us in the most uplifting Shabbat service.

Jews from all around the world, including West London Synagogue members, brought prayer and life to a shul that perhaps was last used more than 1,600 years ago. Rabbi Kariv noted this was a cause for celebration.

A woman rabbi, a state of Israel, a Jewish world that, with the exception of the fundamentalists, has embraced the opportunities of the 21st century, confidently looking beyond itself.

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Israel still faces challenges of existential importance: the question of religious pluralism, how to fulfil the Jewish value of “do not oppress the stranger” in its treatment of asylum seekers and its relationship between peoples, economic inequality and scrupulous political leadership, working for peace with its neighbours, building a shared society inside its borders, seeking peace with Palestinians and an end to the occupation.

The celebration is that, in spite of tremendous obstacles, we have achieved so much and still have faith. It is not a dream. So many of my friends and colleagues are at the forefront of continuing to build Herzl’s dream of a democratic, Jewish state.

Hope is not lost and we celebrate all they have achieved and continue to achieve with singing and joy.

  • Rabbi Neil Janes is executive director of the Lyons Learning Project
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