This evening begins the Jewish celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Day of Independence, which continues on Thursday. (The modern State of Israel was established in 1948.) After the World War II, it was thought imperative that the Jews have a place to call their own.
I think it is helpful for those of us who are not Jewish to understand the importance of Israel to the Jewish people. The history of the Jewish people begins with Abraham, who God tells to leave his homeland, promising him a new home in the land of Canaan. This is the land now known as Israel, often referred to as the Promised Land, because of God’s promise to give the land to the descendants of Abraham.
Jews have lived in the land now known as Israel continuously for over three thousand years, although they were not always in political control of the land, and, indeed, not even always a majority of the population. A substantial portion of Jewish law is tied to the land of Israel and can only be performed there. (Some rabbis say that it is a mitzvah to take possession of Israel and live in it; the Talmud says the land is so holy that merely walking there is enough for salvation. Prayers for a return to Israel and Jerusalem are included in daily Jewish prayers. That is because living outside of Israel is viewed to an extent as an unnatural state for a Jew; that living outside of Israel is akin to living in exile.
The Holocaust brought the need for a Jewish homeland into sharp focus; after the World War II, it was thought imperative that the Jews have a place to call their own. Today, approximately five million Jews, more than a third of the world’s Jewish population, live in Israel. (And they make up more than 8-% of the population there.)
I do not intend by this post to make any comments about political matters in Israel or between the Israelis and the Palestinians; just to help understand why the land matters to the Jewish people. One can criticize certain actions of the government of Israel without being anti-Semitic, but I do think it is important to understand the fear of Jews of the destruction of Israel and the need to protect against that.