Israel celebrates 75 years of independence this week.
The reemergence of an independent Jewish state came nearly 1,900 years after the Romans’ obliteration of the political autonomy of the Jewish nation.
Following the Romans’ destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., Jews ultimately scattered across the globe—forced to disperse not only by the Romans, but also by other hostile powers, such as the Spanish Inquisition 1,400 years later.
Even where permitted to live, restrictions on economic opportunities and religious practice were commonplace. Then, the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s attempted to annihilate not only the Jewish identity, but also the very physical presence of the Jewish people from the face of the earth through the genocide of the Holocaust.
Yet, throughout those calamities, the Jewish people continued to hold legitimate title to Eretz (the land) Israel—and to cling to the hope embodied in Israel’s national anthem:
As long as within our hearts the Jewish soul sings, as long as forward to the East to Zion looks the eye, our hope is not yet lost. It is 2,000 years old, to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.
Inseparable from the Zionist idea is the geographic location of the land of Israel. The land that Abraham’s cattle grazed upon 4,000 years ago after he forged a new life separated from his family in Ur is the same land that his descendants cultivated following their escape from slavery in Egypt.
In fact, the very plot of land in Hebron purchased by Abraham to bury the matriarchs and patriarchs of the Jewish people is visited by his descendants each and every day. More than 3,000 years since the Exodus, and nearly 2,400 years after the reign of King David, modern Zionism remains inseparable from Eretz Israel. Zion specifically referred to a particular mountain just outside Jerusalem conquered by King David.
The evils of the past two millennia failed to extinguish this Jewish spirit. When Theodore Hetzl, the father of modern political Zionism, began his life’s work in the 1800s of securing a homeland for the Jewish people, he soon discovered that only the promise of reestablishing a nation in the “Promised Land” itself—the Land of Israel—could fully ignite this aspiration in the hearts of Jews dispersed across the globe to once again have an independent nation of their own.
In 1948, the state of Israel emerged more than 2,000 years after its people were banished from their homeland. This eternal inheritance nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River cannot be exchanged for an ephemeral peace. To that end, the eternal capital of Jerusalem must always remain undivided, the communities in Judea and Samaria must be enabled to thrive, and strong defense capabilities maintained.
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eloquently expressed it:
The days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over. We are no longer scattered among the nations, powerless to defend ourselves. We restored our sovereignty in our ancient home … . For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves.
The history of Israel is a living history. One of the most poignant memories of my first visit is of Masada—an ancient Roman fortress situated above the desert plain overlooking the Dead Sea. My brother and I paused on our tour of the ruins to hear the story of the Jewish patriots who chose to forfeit their lives at the top of that rock rather than surrender their heritage and freedom to the advancing Roman army.
A young Israeli Defense Forces soldier, rifle by his side and reading a prayer book after applying the tefillin used in prayer, bore homage to this storied past and to the promise of God to Abraham (recorded in Genesis 12):
Now God said to Avram, “Get yourself out of your country, away from your kinsmen and away from your father’s house and go to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you, and I will make your name great; and you are to be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, but I will curse anyone who curses you; and by you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
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