Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

A Pen Portrait of Israel on the Eve of Statehood

As a brief respite from contemporary polemics, here's a visitor’s view of Eretz Israel in the year before the proclamation of Israeli Statehood. It's by Dr Simon Lehrman (1900-80), a Russian-born British Orthodox rabbi who made aliya to Israel in 1966. In this article, called “Some Palestine Impressions”, printed in the London Jewish Chronicle (10 October 1947), he writes evocatively and powerfully.  But since his country had responsibility for the Mandate, it's possible that his avoidance of discussing the political situation was based on that old adage "Discretion is the better part of valour".  I hope you find it interesting, or perhaps nostalgic:

‘Who can speak of holy Jerusalem, mystical Safed, ancient Tiberias, bustling Tev-Aviv, or beautiful Haifa without encroaching on the preserves of the poet and the artist? Similarly, who can describe the peaceful but laborious life in the settlements, or speak of the achievements in the Negev, without rifling exhaustively the vocabulary of praise and legend!

The foremost impression received on my recent visit is that the Yishuv has come to stay. No power on earth will be able to uproot that which has been so courageously built up with brawn and brain. Despite the many obstacles, natural and artificial, the network of the Histadrut and the Solel Boneh goes on building. The Jew has here been endowed with resilience and the inexhaustible fund of creative power now that he has struck roots once again in the land promised unto him already in the days of Abraham.

Whether you view the rising of the sun from Mount Scopus, the Har HaCarmel , the Galilean Hills, or from the shores of Lake Kinneret, waves of beauty enter your soul, and you feel linked in spirit to the Psalmist and prophet who made Hebrew speak in the accent of poetry and deep faith. When, at the close of a perfect day, the sun begins to descend, a huge ball of amber, into the blue Mediterranean or steep Jordan, you feel that you are witnessing the most beautiful sight on this earth. The world must have appeared so lovely at the flush of Creation.

Palestine’s beauty is matched by its plenty. Eretz Israel abounds in plenty. Every meal is a banquet, and every shop a fairy palace.

Perhaps the most abiding impression is that of the power and versatility of the Hebrew language. Modern times present no greater miracle than that of a language that had ceased to be a national tongue nearly two thousand years ago, that had waged a pale struggle for survival in our prayers and studies, but which has now emerged from its living tomb of centuries as one of the most virile and exuberant of vernaculars. You can find your way about the town and [word smudged; manage (?)] with Yiddish or English, but you will never get at the soul of this new type of Jew unless you speak Ivrit, and, bevakasha, in the accent Sefardit. At the international conference on Jewish education convened by the Hebrew University, the first of its kind in Jewish history, in which it was my proud privilege to participate as one of the Anglo-Jewish delegation, the only medium of expression was Hebrew. For nearly two weeks, morning and afternoon, the conference lasted, and during the whole of that time the burning and immediate problems were couched in rolling cadences and figures of speech of which even an Isaiah or an Amos would not have been ashamed.

But Hebrew at its best and purest is to be heard in the Habimah Theatre, in its large and spacious and artistic new home in the large square in Tel-Aviv. Unforgettable is the eve of Motsoe Shabbat when I sat listening to an exquisite performance of “Ahavat Zion,” the first Hebrew novel of its kind, written by Abraham Mappu [sic; i.e. Mapu], or that hot evening in Haifa when I witnessed a clever performance in Hebrew of the comedy “You Can’t Take It With You,” in the large Arman Theatre. To exchange conversation with the sabras, the most animated of souls, or to crack jokes with the Chalutzim in our holy mother tongue, were some of the most delightful moments crowded into a busy five weeks.

Without wishing to enter into any political issues, the impression I received was that Arab and Jew live peacefully side by side, throughout the length and breadth of the land. They have so much in common that their differences are a matter of compromise and adjustment. If only hydra-headed intrigue and dishonest interlopers were not allowed to interfere, all would be well. This belief received corroboration in Haifa and Safed, where Jew and Arab mingle on the friendliest of terms, and where the affairs of the urban council (Iriyah) are their joint concern.

Such questions as education, religion, politics, and tolerance of one another’s opinions in Eretz Israel are subjects too vast and important to be mentioned in a paragraph or two. There is one thought, however, with which I wish to conclude, and that is, that a new type of Jew is being evolved in Eretz Israel today, a type that, physically and characteristically, gives the lie to the conventional description of the Jew in non-Jewish circles. In Tel-Aviv and in Haifa, in Metulla and Revivim, the Jew is straight backed and beardless, muscular and tanned, tolerant in outlook and universal in demeanour. He is no longer the subject of inhibitions and the butt of the riff-raff in his ancestral land; he feels he is a citizen of the world, ready and willing to co-operate in all endeavours to make this world a safer place to live in for all mankind.

The Jew in Palestine regards himself as the representative of the Lion of Judah, who brought strength and beauty to the world by giving it a Bible and religion calculated to bring people nearer to God, and to raise earth to heaven. The Torah once came forth from Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem; the Jew is now ready to go forth from the Galut and people once again the wastes of Judea calling him home with a myriad tongues.’

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