Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Plenty to Celebrate (Jerusalem Post)

[...]Ben-Gurion, whose original state contained a mere 600,000 Jews, would have hardly believed that in his own children's lives, this number would grow almost tenfold. He certainly would have been stunned to learn that Zion is only a few years from becoming home to the world's largest Jewish community, a status it has not had not since the Second Temple's destruction, but since the first destruction, nearly two-and-a-half millennia ago.

Ben-Gurion's successor, Moshe Sharett, who founded Israel's Foreign Service, would have been delighted to learn that Israel – in his day ostracized by most of the non-Western world – has since established full relations with China, Russia, India and Egypt as well as the entire former Eastern Bloc and almost the entire Third World.

Sharett's successor and Ben-Gurion's longtime treasurer, Levi Eshkol, would have been in tears had he learned that Israel's per-capita income is higher than half the European Union's, and that the Jewish state has one of the world's most solid currencies and most envied technological industries.

Eshkol's successor, Golda Meir, who was Israel's first envoy to Moscow and as prime minister worked hard to lift the USSR's emigration ban, would have been thrilled to learn that not only the famous Prisoners of Zion on whose behalf she fought, but all of Soviet Jewry has been freed and largely arrived here.

Meir's successor, Menachem Begin, who struggled for the immigration of the Jews of Ethiopia and Syria, would have been overjoyed to learn of their full liberation, and arrival in the Jewish state.

Indeed, even Theodor Herzl, who in 1897 said the establishment of the Jewish state would be accomplished within 50 years at most, would have been dumbfounded to learn that, for now at least, and for the first time since antiquity, that with the exception of Iran, there no is longer a Jewish community anywhere in the world that is formally oppressed by its government.

In the same vein, Chaim Weizmann, who spent decades seeking Arab-Zionist harmony, would have been elated to learn that the Jewish state has signed peace agreements with the two largest Arab states that share its two longest borders.

In fact, Israel's accomplishments are today impressive not only when viewed through such historic prisms, but also when compared with current global trends.

Strategically, Israel is ahead of most countries in tackling the post-Cold War era's biggest menace – terror.

Socially, in a world that is rapidly beset by developed countries failing to either block or absorb immigrations from poor countries, Israel has in just over a decade absorbed a population about a fifth its original size. Unlike initial pessimistic assessments, these immigrants have on the whole found housing, employment and education, and in fact have frequently joined the economic middle class and the cultural mainstream. Demographically, while most other Western populations are shrinking, Israel's continues to grow, thanks to fertility rates that are higher, and marriage ages and divorce rates that are lower, than most other countries in the West.

Economically, in a developed world in which even veteran economies like Germany's and France's are struggling to achieve viable growth rates, Israel has managed to restore its economic growth even after being momentarily debilitated by a vicious terror war.

Lastly, and most importantly, in a world where organic culture is often being overpowered by international commercializing forces, in Israel Hebrew language and culture – which only a century ago hardly existed – are flourishing.

As we celebrate our independence tonight, we should take stock of all this and remember that with all the flaws, setbacks and hardships that involve our existence here – it's worth the effort.