holy land I - introduction
Just in case you haven't heard yet, I just spent a big chunk of time in Israel. When I got back, I had a terrible intestinal virus, but today I'm finally back on my feet. Eight hours of jet lag is nothing to sneeze at.
philosophy vs reality
I took a short course before my trip. That course pointed out that there are two camps when it comes to thinking about Israel's existence. The first camp sees it as a fulfillment of prophecy, a sign of the impending apocalypse, and as just one more step in a long, cosmic story about the Jewish people. The other camp sees it as the culmination of a unique set of geopolitical circumstances. I don't see these as mutually exclusive, but most other people do.
Growing up, friends and relatives described the existence of Israel as an entirely miraculous occurrence. Looking at the history, I'm prone to agree. Israel, at its core, is an ethnic Jewish state. It's run by Jewish people, for Jewish people. In the history of the Jewish people, that's a really big deal.
philosophical origin story
You've heard the word, "racism" before. It's a nasty word to describe a disgusting thing. Racism is always bad, but racism against the Jewish is so bad and so prevalent that it gets its own special name:
As a born-and-raised American, I only think of ethnicity in situations where it's important to think about a person's background. The United States is about 246 years old.
When visiting Israel, you'll quickly learn that the Jewish people claim a heritage that's about 3,800 years old. That's long enough to see the United States live 15 times. That's long enough to see the rise and fall of every major civilization in all of recorded history. That's older than civilization in Europe (depending on how you define "civilization").
During those 3,800 years of history, how many times have the Jewish people had any noticeable power? Probably only twice. Every other time, their experience has ranged from marginalized to systematically murdered and obliterated (and not just during WWII). But the Jews are still here.
According to one insightful speaker I heard during my trip, "Moses' eleventh commandment is 'Thou shalt not die.'" The Jewish people have survived longer than almost every other people group on earth. No matter who you are, there's something special about that.
So what's the big deal about Israel? To paraphrase my wonderful tour guide, "We've tried everything else. We've tried fighting, we've tried hiding, we've tried assimilating, we've tried isolating. At this point, what are our other options? We might as well try building a modern democracy. Nothing else has worked yet."
practical origin story
That's all fine and good, but how did that really take place? And do the ends justify the means?
I found this nice summary online. I recommend giving it a good read.
Israel began with Britain seizing land from the Ottoman empire. Britain said that, "nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities," at the same time that their state goal was to provide a, "national home for the Jewish people." No matter how you think of it, those are inherently contradictory goals.
It wasn't until after WWII that some of the Jewish people armed themselves and began the fight for an independent, Jewish nation. They succeeded in 1948. (Also, keep in mind that nobody, even Jewish survivors, understood or recognized the Holocaust for what it was until around 1961 with the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Everyone knew it was bad, but we didn't really know how bad.)
The history continues to the present day. Israel is still fighting a war that some people have called genocide, even while they maintain an advanced, thriving democracy.
I can't cover everything in Israel's history and the way they became a nation. I especially can't provide new or interesting commentary about whether Israel, as a nation, has a philosophical "right to exist."
I will, however, begin this series on how I experienced my time in Israel. While there, I got to experience both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I listened to and spoke with an ambassador and the pastor of the largest Christian church in Palestine (the two of whom are best friends). I got to visit the border between Gaza and Israel, wave at snipers, and hear stories from the people who live there. I learned about Israel's tech and startup industry from an American-educated Israeli citizen. I visited a Palestinian, Muslim Journalist in Palestine in the morning, then celebrated the beginning of the Sabbath through prayer, song, and chant at the Western Wall in the evening. We wrapped up that night with an Orthodox Sabbath dinner in Jerusalem. The last speaker was the director of the Israel Center for Jewish-Christian relations. She was spectacular and insightful.
See you soon!
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