Monday, May 14, 2012

Israel at 64

Having been born in 1948, I am perhaps particularly partial to people and events connected with that year. Many noteworthy baby-boomers (all obviously much more noteworthy than I) were born 1948 - including actors Anthony Andrews, Jeremy Irons, John Ritter, and Jerry Mathers (Leave It To Beaver), composer Andrew Lloyd Weber, pollster John Zogby, David Eisenhower, Bryant Gumbel, and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. Also in 1948 the Berlin Airlift began, and Harry Truman won an upset victory over "the little man on the wedding cake," Alice Roosevelt's derisive label for Republican New York Governor  and two-time presidential loser, Thomas Dewey. Of course, some scoundrels were born and some bad things also happened in 1948. But these were some of the more wonderful ones.
Among all the many wonderful things that happened in 1948, one of the most amazing was the restoration on May 14 of an independent Jewish State after two millennia of Jewish exile from the land that was so central to God's covenant with Abraham and his descendants. After all that the Jewish People had experienced, modern Israel's  mid-20th-century rebirth may have seemed at the time almost miraculous. It was, in fact, the result of much effort and struggle - by pioneering settlers struggling to make a new life in a precarious environment, and by heroic soldiers, whose new nation was immediately invaded by hostile Arab armies. Israel survived its War of Independence and then three other major wars in 1956, 1967, and 1973, but its survival remains an ongoing struggle against implacable foes. As it says in the traditional Passover ritual: In every generation they stand up against us to destroy us, and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand.
Regrettably, it took until 1994 for the Holy See to recognize Israel and establish proper diplomatic relations. Ninety years earlier in 1904, the founding-father of the Zionist Movement, Theodore Herzl, had had an audience with Pope Pius X, at which the Pope famously told Herzl that, the Church "cannot prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem, but we could never sanction it." The theological basis for this was probably not any person ill-will on the part of the saintly Pius X, but merely the more or less traditional Christian interpretation of the 1st-century destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and subsequent history. A new, more promising path was opened for Christian thinking about contemporary Judaism, however, when the Second Vatican Council endorsed St. Paul's view that the gifts and call of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:28). Even then it took another three decades to translate that principle into action at the diplomatic level. That this finally happened was undoubtedly due to the persistence of Blessed John Paul II, who did so much to repair the relationship between Christians and Jews.
Coming of age in New York and studying at City College, I had acquaintances and friends for whom growing up included some personal experience in Israel. Much later on, one of my most spiritually enriching experiences would be the summer I spent in Israel in 1993. the Jewish Promised Land and the Christian Holy land intersected and reinforced one another for me and made so much more vivid our common connection in sacred stories and eternal hopes. 

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