A Poetic Vision of Israel


Happy birthday, Israel! Today on the Hebrew calendar is Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Across the country, there will be parades, cookouts, and celebrations of 71 years since the birth of the modern state.

As with any birthday, it is a time for remembrances and reflections. Israel is where our Biblical ancestors pledged themselves to God, where our prophets preached justice and goodness, where our exiles were gathered after devastation, where an ancient people created a modern country in their historic homeleand. Israel is not a perfect country, any more than any nation is. There are real problems of inequality, of fair treatment, of societies learning to live together. But Israel is a repository of Jewish hope that our world can be perfected. We can help Israel live up to our highest ideals through our love and engagement.

There are other times and places to discuss Israel, and I hope in the coming year we have that opportunity. Today, on Israel’s birthday, I am drawn to a poem that has always captured for me an ideal image. It was written in 1968 by Yehuda Amicah, perhaps Israel’s foremost modern poet: “Jerusalem is a Port City on the Shore of Eternity”

Jerusalem is a port city on the shore of eternity.
The Temple Mount is a great ship, a pleasure yawl
in splendor. From the portholes of her Western Wall, cheerful saints
look out. They are travelers. Hasidim wave greetings
from the pier, shouting hurrah, au revoir! She is
always arriving, always sailing away. And the fences and the piers
and the policemen and the flags and the tall masts of churches
And the mosques and the smokestacks of synagogues and the boats
Of praise and mountain-waves. The shofar blows. One
more has set out. Yom Kippur sailors in white uniforms
Climb among the ladders and ropes of well-tested prayers.
And the commerce and the gates and the golden domes:
Jerusalem is the Venice of God.

May the ideal Jerusalem of our poets and prophets come to be made real in our own day. May Israel continue to strive towards fulfilling our Jewish vision and values. May the next 71 years be full of goodness and blessings for our homeland. Happy birthday, Israel!