On Independence Day, do not take Israel’s existence for granted

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Southern Front Commander Yigal Allon (to his right) and Yitzhak Rabin (between them) on the southern front during the 1948 War of Independence. (IDF / Wikipedia)

Listen to an audio version of this article by clicking here.

by Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD

My parents were born in the second decade of the last century, my dad in 1910, my mom in 1915. They lived through the years of World War II and the Holocaust; a number of my father’s aunts and uncles were killed in Lithuania by the barbaric Nazis and their local allies. My dad served with distinction in the American military to defeat these enemies of humankind.

My parents celebrated joyously when the State of Israel was declared in 1948 and when Jews defended themselves against invading Arab armies, determined to massacre Israelis once again in jihad.

My family elders understood and passionately embraced the importance of Israel as a protector nation-state of Jewish women, men, and children against evil forces seeking to commit mass murder whenever state-provided protections are removed.

The lessons they grasped was underscored for my generation — I was born in 1948, my sister in 1947 — by the events leading up to the Six Day War of June 1967. Egyptian and Syrian forces massed at Israel’s borders, with stated plans to “drive the Jews into the sea.” At the time as an officer of Hillel at Cornell University, I was well enough informed of these events to fear a second Holocaust! Israel’s miraculous victory instilled American Jews with pride and with a resolve never to take the existence of the Jewish state for granted.

The generation my children are part of — my son was born in 1979, my daughter two years later — did not experience the aftermath of the Shoah, the birth of Medinat Yisrael, the Six Day War, or the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Yet as grandchildren of survivors, on my wife’s side, my offspring maintained our family’s staunch support for Israel; my son and his family made aliyah in 2007, and my daughter has engaged in many volunteer tasks supporting the state.

Regrettably, commitment to Israel began to weaken among a sizable number of my children’s peers, the offspring of baby boomers like me. They assume that Israel is so strong that its existence is guaranteed even as surrounding enemy states and terror groups have become stronger and stronger. They also thought that antisemitism was “a relic of the past.”

Alarmingly, the next generation, those between the ages of 18 and 39, are students and alumni of colleges and universities on whose campuses virulent anti-Israel sentiments are widespread. Many members of this generation are traumatized by the seeming morphing of anti-Zionism into antisemitism. Some feel they must subdue their Jewish identity to remain safe.

Even worse, some of these young adults actively seek to find fault with the Jewish state, apparently to curry favor with and acceptance by “progressive” peers.

Shabbat/Simchat Torah/October 7 was a shocking reminder to Diaspora Jews of all generations to never forget the fragility of Israel’s existence and its necessity as the protector of Jewish lives.

What history has shown us is the resurgence of enemies intent upon unleashing pogroms both in Israel and at vulnerable spots around the world.

As Peggy Noonan wrote in “The Wall Street Journal,” “[Hamas] murdered little children; they took infants hostage as they screamed. They murdered old women, tormented and raped young women, targeted an overnight music festival and murdered the unarmed young people in cold blood or mowed them down as they ran screaming. They murdered whole families as they begged for their lives; they burned people alive; they decapitated babies.”

In a podcast, Micah Goodman, a leading Israeli public intellect, articulated this rude reminder of the necessity of a Jewish state: “[On October 7] between 6:30 in the morning and 6:30 in the evening — roughly 12 hours — the State of Israel didn’t exist in the area between Sderot and Alumim, in the area that surrounds Gaza. The State of Israel wasn’t there. It wasn’t there to protect the civilians who were massacred and butchered in their homes.

“I hope the people who are listening to us know what happened in Be’eri and never, ever forget what happened in Be’eri and in Nahal Oz, never forget what happened there. The State of Israel wasn’t there to protect them. They were slaughtered, they were butchered.”

“But actually, for 12 hours, there was a black hole of Jewish sovereignty. There was a black hole for 12 hours, no state, no one to protect us between Alumim and Sderot; no one was there.”

“[Like my parents’ generation of Diaspora Jews] the founding fathers and mothers of the State of Israel knew that Israel is not to be taken for granted, knew that Jewish sovereignty should not be trivialized. The reason they knew it can’t be taken for granted was because they were there in a world where Jews didn’t have a state. They were there when Jews had a state. They knew that this should not be taken for granted.”

“What happens to us is that after a while, and that’s true about everything in life, the most amazing miracles become normalized and everything gets taken for granted.”

The problem arises in subsequent generations: “What happens is that the second generation…still knows it’s a miracle, and we can’t mess this up. The third generation forgets, and the fourth generation starts screwing things up because it takes everything for granted.”

Tragically on October 7, all of this indifference was challenged by a “wake-up call.”

“We just got a text message from Jewish history. Jewish history says ‘hello.’ Jewish history showed us this is how it looks, those 12 hours, this is how it looks when Jews don’t have a state. We saw how it looks; it looks like a Kishinev. So here, Jewish history called us up and said, ‘hello, this is a reminder.’”

Israelis of all generations came back to awareness of the necessity of Jewish statehood.

“Now we have the perspective that the founding fathers and mothers of Israel have. We saw what it looks like without a state. We know what it looks like with a state. We will never take our sovereignty for granted.”

This means that while we can disagree and debate issues, “we can’t do so in a manner that is weakening this important historic project called Zionism. We can’t do that.”

In other words, “we got a reminder from Jewish history that now we know what the founding fathers and mothers knew, and we’ve forgotten that the alternative to Israel is Kishinev. And that is why there is no alternative.”

As we commemorate the 76th anniversary of Israel’s independence, preceded by a somber Memorial Day — adding to our commemorations our mourning of the nearly 2,000 casualties of the war with Hamas — we must forever remember this sobering moment.

We can never again take Israel’s existence for granted!

The lives of our Israeli relatives, friends, colleagues, acquaintances depend upon it.

To paraphrase Golda Meir, when we face an existential crisis, we are reminded that we — seven million Israeli Jews — actually have nowhere else to go.

However — B’yachad Nenatzeach! Together we will prevail!

Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD, was religious leader of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, NJ, for more than four decades, retiring in 2021. He served as president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis (1993-95); as president of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues (2000-05); and as chair of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel (2010-14). He currently serves as president of Mercaz Olami, representing the world Masorti/Conservative movement. He is the author of “It All Begins with a Date: Jewish Concerns about Interdating,” “Preserving Jewishness in Your Family: After Intermarriage Has Occurred,” and “Alternatives to Assimilation: The Response of Reform Judaism to American Culture, 1840-1930.”