Happy Birthday, Israel!
This year the Jewish state celebrates 75 years as a modern nation.
On May 14, 1948, people the world over awoke to begin what was for them just another day. But it wasn’t just another day. It was a day when history was being made.
In a small room in faraway British Mandate Palestine, Jewish statesman David Ben-Gurion rose to his feet before an assembly of Jewish dignitaries and declared that Israel, after 2,000 dreary years of displacement, was again a sovereign nation in its own land. A mere 11 minutes later, American President Harry S. Truman affirmed U.S. support for the fledgling State of Israel.
For me, as with many others in my small Michigan community back then, events affecting a tiny strip of land in the Middle East escaped notice. We were preoccupied with manufacturing automobiles. But all that changed when I recognized how indispensable Israel and the Jewish people were to my Christian faith.
For Jewish people, though, many of whom barely survived the horrors of the Holocaust, the emergence of the State of Israel projected a new and longed-for reality. Homeless wanderers for more than 2,000 years, they could breathe a collective sigh of relief. Because of what occurred in Jerusalem that evening, the Jews at long last could begin to go home.
Theodor Herzl (the founder of modern Zionism) had a dream that was at last beginning to take shape. A Jewish visionary, Herzl was deeply disturbed by Europe’s antisemitism in the late 1800s. He saw an onslaught on the horizon and concluded the answer was to establish a Jewish state where Jewish people would be safe.
Most of European Jewry at the time did not agree with him. In fact, many thought him quite mad. But the journalist-turned-statesman clung to his position; and rampaging antisemitism, the Holocaust, and brutal military conflicts unfortunately proved his vision correct.
The great stain, never to be removed from the grim period of tyranny’s bloody march from the 1930s through the mid-1940s, was the Holocaust. Adolf Hitler’s manic ambition was to fashion a Third Reich—an empire free of Jews that would endure for 1,000 years.
The grand design was a failure. And a remnant of Jewish people, survivors of the Nazis’ shattered obsession to destroy them, began to go home—to a land awaiting them since the days of Moses and Joshua.
Against All Odds
The Israelis were not supposed to win, but they did.
Little Israel, set upon by superior Arab forces in June 1967 and again in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, was forced to fight for its survival against seemingly insurmountable forces. The conflicts produced names that became immortal: Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon, among others.
What can be said of these men and women who emerged heroes in these dramatic struggles was expressed to me by a friend, Israeli Major General Uzi Narkiss. It was General Narkiss who secured Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and stood with men of his brigade, looking up at the revered Western Wall (Kotel) after years of being denied access to that holy place.
Asked to express his feelings, the normally loquacious general replied, “I suddenly found myself speechless. But as I stood there, I became suddenly conscious that in some inexpressible way, every Jew who had ever lived over the last 2,000 years seemed to be gathered at the wall with me.”
So it was then. And today, after 75 years of statehood, Israelis, along with Jews of the Diaspora and Gentile friends of Israel, have reason to celebrate.
The phenomenon of the current Jewish return to Israel from around the world presses us to remember the menace of antisemitism. Theodor Herzl, through his vision and fortitude, opened a door to the Promised Land for generations of Jewish people whom he would never live to see.
Of like mind were Christian Zionists who saw, as Herzl did, what others did not. Inspired by the Bible, they knew that little plot of land in the Middle East was more than a place—a settlement for Jewish refugees. It was the Jewish homeland, given to the Jewish people by God; and as Bible-believing Christians, they felt a directive, a biblical mandate, to help the Jewish people settle in it.
Engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor are the hallowed words of another place for another people: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me.”
Those words were not meant exclusively for Jews, but for all who have suffered deprivation and exile from their ancient homelands. The author, Emma Lazarus, was a Jewish woman who was deeply concerned for Russian Jews afflicted by brutal antisemitism in that country. She also was an early advocate of a homeland for the Jewish people in Israel.
Israel holds fast to the spirit of her sacred invitation and stands as a bastion of freedom, blessing the world in more ways than can be put into words.
When God promised that piece of land in the Middle East to Abraham—then to Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s descendants—He gave it to them forever:
And the LORD said to Abram, . . . “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you” (Gen. 13:14–17).
So, we send heartfelt best wishes to our friends in Israel at its 75th year, remembering with hearts of love God’s promise to His people of still better things to come.