I have led group trips to Israel many times and participants always returned home feeling that they had witnessed a miracle.
Even with the conflicts and politics that swirl around Israeli society like a desert windstorm, there is still something different about the modern state of Israel that transcends time and place. Though I have traveled there and lived there when I studied in the seminary, the mystery of walking in the footsteps of the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs brings me and most travelers to a much deeper understanding of the Bible.
One special place is a must-see — Independence Hall located in downtown Tel Aviv. The hall was a part of a house that once belonged to the city's mayor and is now a museum. The museum official narrates the country's modern history that began on May 14, 1948, and declared the revival of a two thousand year old dream of a return to the Promised Land.
I gaze at pictures of the nation’s founders, including Theodore Herzl, called the father of the modern state of Israel. He lead the Zionist movement at the turn of the 20th century.
Or I imagine Israel’s first and most famous prime minister, David Ben- Gurion, standing at the podium and proclaiming to the world that the state of Israel is a reality. Israel Independence Day falls on Thursday, April 19, 2018, based on the Jewish calendar. It is the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar.
When he was interviewed by CBS in 1956, Ben Gurion said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.”
Most Jewish people instinctively understand and believe that.
In 1948, after the Holocaust, Arab armies united in an attempt to wage another genocidal war against the newly declared Jewish State. Yet Israel prevailed.
Who would have imagined that after 2,000 years, the Jewish people would reinvent themselves as one unified nation? Who would have imagined then that these early leaders could recreate the modern Hebrew language by taking the ancient biblical Hebrewand turning it into a living and breathing modern language?
It's no wonder Ben Gurion believed that moment in history was a miracle. No other nation had accomplished the task of resurrecting itself from the sands of the ancient world.
Like America — the country which embraced immigrants from all over the world and created a new identity for its citizens —Israel fulfilled a similar dream. One can also see the fulfillment of biblical prophecies.
These Bible verses, which resonate with Christians and Jews alike, speak to that fulfillment:
“ When the Lord restores the fortunes of Zion-we see it as in a dream.” Psalm 126:1
“The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem; He gathers in the exiles of Israel. He heals their broken hearts, and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:2-3
The miracle is that the dream became a reality and the reality became a dream fulfilled for the world today.
Israel also symbolizes the hope of a Christian dream of fulfilling the prophecies found in the Christian Scriptures.
Today, a fifth of Israel’s population are Arabs from both the Christianity and Islam faiths. The country is a thriving democracy with a robust economy and cultural and academic achievements noted world wide.
I will lead another trip there this fall. We will see the real Israel, not the one demonized by the media and extremists on both sides of the political spectrum. We will see the Israel that represents the same values of democracy, freedom, and justice that we Americans cherish. We will see the Israel which is a light to the other nations, even with its enormous challenges to survive in a dangerous part of the world.
The Prophet Jeremiah captured the eternal spirit of how two millennium of exile would one day lead to the return of the Jewish people and that proves to us today that the history of hope and faith — in some ways the only thing that kept the Jewish people alive for centuries — would enable this people to prevail despite all odds.
“For days are coming – declares the Lord – when I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel and Judah, said the Lord; and I will bring them back to the land that I gave their fathers, and they shall possess it.” (Jeremiah 30:3)
That is the miracle of Jewish history and the state of Israel.