(JNS) In 1948, the State of Israel was founded on principles deeply rooted in Jewish history, faith and tradition. Israel’s Declaration of Independence cites the significance of the Land of Israel as “the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped.”
“After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom,” the Declaration states.
The State of Israel, it continued, would be the nation of the Jewish people, “open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles. … It will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.” The signatories stated that they placed their trust in tzur yisrael—the Rock of Israel, a reference to God in Jewish tradition.
The First Zionist Congress, held in 1897 under the leadership of Theodor Herzl, proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in their own nation. Though not a religious man himself, Herzl recognized the importance of Judaism. “Zionism is the return to Judaism before the return to the Jewish Land,” he told the Chief Rabbi of Bazel Dr. Alfred Cohn. This laid the groundwork for rebuilding the land based on the principle that the return to our homeland is rooted in our faith.
As we move into the future, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a conflict over the soul of our nation. The connection between Judaism as a religion and its importance to the Jewish people as a nation is undeniable. The establishment of the State of Israel was a fulfillment of spiritual and historical aspirations. Yet, as the world around us evolves, the vision of Herzl and the framers of the Declaration is at risk of being overshadowed.
In these challenging times, it is crucial that we remember the principles upon which the State of Israel was founded. We must not lose sight of the common ground that unites us, rooted in our shared history and faith. As the descendants of those who longed for their return to the homeland, we have a responsibility to preserve and strengthen these connections for future generations.
The State of Israel was born out of a collective dream, fueled by the unwavering faith and hope of the Jewish people. We must honor the sacrifices made by our ancestors and the vision of Herzl, who saw the value in building a nation upon the foundation of the Jewish faith. As we face the challenges of the present and the uncertainties of the future, let us remember his words: “Zionism is the return to Judaism before the return to the Jewish Land.”
As we continue to build our nation, we must find ways to embrace our shared heritage, faith and values. We must strive to create a society that respects diversity while also recognizing the importance of our spiritual and historical roots. The soul of Israel depends on our ability to unite as a people, bridging the gaps between secular and religious, tradition and progress.
In the spirit of the framers of our independence, at this World Zionist Congress let us work together to uphold the vision of Herzl and the Bassler Rav. May we find the common ground necessary to secure the future of our nation, ensuring that the State of Israel remains a beacon of freedom, justice and peace, guided by the principles of our faith and the aspirations of our ancestors.
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