There are two seasons of Jewish high holy days. There's the traditional one, which arrives in the fall with the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, both are days of intense prayer and introspection. And then there's the new season, which is the annual observance of Holocaust Memorial Day and, last week, Israel Independence Day.
The first set of holy days is about repentance. The second relates to the impact of modern history, one that compels Jews to mourn a tragedy and celebrate a miracle.
Israel has opened a new dimension of religious identity for people of all faiths. Of course, the peace process and politics surrounding that process cannot be ignored. I want to see a lasting peace established between Palestinians and Israelis, but I believe that to characterize Zionism as an "apartheid" ideology betrays the actual truth of the Bible and distorts what Jews have stood for through time, which is the right to live peacefully and dwell in the holy land.
I have lived in Israel and saw not just the spiritual connection of Jews to their homeland, but Christians renewing their religious values as well.
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Recently, a woman asked me how she could nurture her preteen daughter's fascination with the Bible and characters of the Torah. I told her to save her money and find a good youth-group-organized trip to Israel. Jewish people see it as their mandate to share Israel not only with their Palestinian neighbors but also the rest of the world.
One thing is clear, history matters.
The creation of the State of Israel renewed Jewish identity, spirit and hope for a better future. God said to Abraham in Genesis, "All the nations of the world will be a blessing by you." This prophecy is being fulfilled when religious groups are welcomed to Israel. Academic conferences and organizations that work with scholars, clergy and pilgrims create bridges of mutual understanding and are part of a much broader peace process.
This does not negate the problems of Israeli security and Palestinian statehood, and the search for peaceful coexistence. The problem is that this ongoing negotiation has turned into a propaganda war. I pray for the day when Muslims will tour Israel and when Arab countries will invite their Israeli neighbors to be visitors and tourists in their lands.
This is why I believe Israel's Independence Day deserves our attention and support.
Israel has always been about reaching out to its Arab neighbors and those who live in Israel itself to join together to build a better society. From the actual text of Israel's Declaration of Independence, written in 1948: "We appeal to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the up building of the state on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions."
Moreover, the text says, "We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their people in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East."
The Holocaust and Israel Independence Day are both interwoven into the tapestry of Israeli memory and its national identity. They are unofficial high holy days of history, chronicling the fulfillment of God's promise to return the exiles to the Promised Land.
These two commemorations have shaped this nation and inspired it, as the prophet Isaiah said, "to be a light to the nations."
When I witness people around the world rediscover the history of their own faiths and enrich their lives by visiting Israel, I see one more reason to hold on to hope.
Israel's future is a bright one.
Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him at twitter.com/rabbibloom.