One might question what importance would a small strip of land 263 miles long – North to South and between 9 and 71 miles wide – East to West nestled along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. There are few valid doubts of the historic and Biblical importance of this land, the home to the Hebrews and particularly to the tribe of Judah who resided in Judea, from where the word Jew is derived. But does the Promised Land, the Land of Milk and Honey have any actual importance or significance to Jews today. The answer to that question depends very heavily on which Jews you ask it of. If you ask the over six million Jews currently living in Israel the answer is obviously “Yes” as one would suspect. The land within which one lives is of extreme importance. If you ask any of the approximately six to seven million Jews of the Diaspora you will likely get answers running the entire gambit of possibilities. Perhaps a more accurate questioning of the importance Israel has for modern Jews would be whether there is a need for Israel as the homeland to the Jewish people or is Israel no longer necessary for the continued survival of the Jewish people who appear to have learned to manage as simply another people amongst the peoples of the world.
The first point which needs to be emphasized is that the importance of Israel is independent from the opinions and attitudes that any number, group, community, religious standing or sect believes, even including their positive or negative Zionistic opinions. The full spectra of Jewish attitude on the current state of Israel spans from the most ardent religious Zionist and secular Zionist all the way to the Neturei Karta, a very religiously oriented, Haredi community which believes that the Jews are not to have a homeland until one is established by the Messiah, and the fully secularized and assimilated Jews whose only ties to Judaism or Israel is simply the fact they were born of Jewish parents though their lives are lived completely removed from Jewish society as a whole. Probably the most obvious need for the existence of a Jewish state was revealed with the mass genocide carried out against the European Jews by the Nazis during World War II. I refrain from using the name Holocaust to refer to that horrid part of human history simply because there are so many other similar such events throughout history and including almost every communities of Jews be they in Europe, Africa, Asia or elsewhere. Some of the more notable and documented events of a similar kind include the Spanish Inquisition, the pogroms in Russia and even the dispossessing and banishment of Jews living in the area of Tennessee by the commanding Union General immediately after the Civil War in the United States. That action was ordered, rescinded and terminated within two weeks by President Lincoln, but had done significant damage to the Jews residing within the area already. What these events throughout human history point out is that the Jewish people have always needed their own country if for no other reason than to have a safe haven where they can live without fear for their lives and property and where they are enabled to defend themselves.
Israel needs to mean more to the Jews today than simply the place where they can retreat to should their world come crashing down on them as life has for Jews in all too many countries and times. One simple truth is that should the Temple be rebuilt, it would necessarily be located in Israel and most likely in Jerusalem though there are some who claim that it need not be the identical location as the First and Second Temples. Without the existence of the Temple there are numerous commandments and other traditions which cannot be completed which leaves Judaism incomplete. One of the best known duties within Judaism which requires the physical existence of the Holy Temple are the three Pilgrimage Holidays, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. The Holy Temple was and will be the central location for all of Judaism and the originator for observances. Granted that the Jewish people are able to observe the vast majority of their personal commandments without the existence of the Holy Temple, but there is still an absence from Jewish life which can only be filled by building the Third, and hopefully final, Temple. Such a structure would fulfill prophesies and complete the reestablishing of Israel as the Jewish homeland. These are the reasons why there is such emphasis by Islamic sources contesting the historic site and even existence of the Holy Jewish Temples and their location being the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The opponents of the Jewish people are fully cognizant that Judaism is incomplete without the Holy Temple and that if the Holy Temple were rebuilt, then the Jews would have an established and concrete claim to Eretz Yisroel which would be uncontestable. As long as there is no Holy Temple the adversaries of the Jews know that they have a better chance of defeating and erasing Jewish existence. The Holy Temple would give the Jewish people a defendable and central place which would also be a unifying force and might even result in bringing many of the Diaspora Jews back home.
Still, the most obvious reason in these times that the Jewish people need Israel, whether or not they believe that it is the correct time and was established according to prophesy, is due to the troubling fact that once again anti-Semitism is rising almost everywhere across the globe. Anti-Semitism is even on the rise in places where no Jews reside, which is astonishing and also a bewildering situation. This rise in anti-Semitism already ran much of its course throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds where in many countries there are less than a thousand Jews, many less than a hundred and still others which are completely free of any Jewish presence. This turn of events came about during the first decade after the reestablishment of the country of Israel as numerous Arab and Muslim nations either forced their Jewish populations, most of which had resided within these nations often for close to two thousand years even predating Islam, to leave or face death or had recurring pogroms where their Jewish quarters were put to the torch and many Jews were murdered or viscously assaulted. As a result of these events, and as further proof of the need for a Jewish state, close to one million Jews fled to Israel while numerous and relatively sizeable numbers of the remaining Jews from these hostile nations fled to Europe and the Americas. Now with the onset of slow but steady rise in the numbers and severity of anti-Semitism in Europe and the Americas, there are Jews who are at the leading cusp of what will become waves of Jews fleeing again persecution by their neighbors. Once again many of these Jews are heading to Israel while some of the European Jews are taking refuge in the United States and Canada, a decision which may only provide them with a temporary respite as the anti-Jewish violence in word and deed is on the rise there as well. The United States and Canada are likely about a decade, if that much, behind trailing Europe in anti-Semitic crimes. Israel has recently made Aliyah for French Jews more easily attained as the numbers of Jews leaving France has risen to near epidemic proportions. There are predictions that within a decade the number of Jews whose native language is French in Israel will be second only to the Jews whose native language is Russian and surpassing those Jews whose native tongue is English. This past year saw an event which is as chilling as it is informative as the Mayor of Malmo, Sweden literally informed reporters and petitioners alike that he is unable and has no desire to try to prevent acts of anti-Semitism and the Jews of his city should leave if they had any fears of being victimized. His response was in reference to the desecration of the Jewish cemetery and a report of increasing numbers of physical and verbal attacks and other abuses towards the Jewish community in Malmo. Where reports lay much of the anti-Semitic problems on the growing immigrant community in Malmo, the Mayor and others who take a similar view are native Swedes and not immigrants. As the incidences and severity of anti-Semitic acts continue to rise across the Western world, the need for Israel as a safe haven for Jews will become more and more important. It is really very simple, the world cannot concurrently hold the position that Israel should not be a Jewish state and wish the Jews would leave their individual countries. Yet, this is often the position which the anti-Semites hold, they demand that the Jews be driven from their nation while condemning Israel and calling for its destruction. Expecting rational actions from people who hold irrational positions and accusations about the Jewish people is a waste of time and effort which could be put to better use. Anti-Semitism will not be disappearing any time soon, let us hope that the same will hold true for Israel as the home and place of refuge for the Jews.
Beyond the Cusp