love living in Israel and am grateful to God and to the Israeli people for opening the door for me to reside and raise my family here. There is nowhere in the world I would rather call home. That’s a statement that would raise some cynical eyebrows, but it’s true, and I know there are many non-Jews who feel as I do and would give a great deal to be here too.
Israel is the country of “Hatikvah” (“The Hope”). That is an unusual name for a national anthem – a far cry from the songs of patriotism and praise the citizens of so many other countries sing to their lands. It is a different kind of name, but this nation, these people, could not have a more appropriate one.
Israel’s very existence – in the physical – is attributable more to hope, derived from faith, than to anything else. It was always hope, out there, as they wandered the dark, dangerous, deadly roads of exile, that kept a light, a purpose, the flicker of a dream alive in the heart of the Jews.
It was hope against hope. Hope against all odds. Hope against reason. But it burned. It could not be quenched. And it was realized – that hope – when after 2000 long and excruciating years, the Jew returned to his home, and his home was returned to the Jew.
Israel’s rebirth as a nation in 1948 should have vindicated the centuries of hoping, and marked the beginning of the end of the need to hope, and the start of a time when the Jews could begin to enjoy all they had been hoping for.
But that was not to be. They grasped hold of and clung to hope then, as the world recognized them, and as their new society began to take hold and grow on the long abandoned homeland of the Jews.
And for the last 59 years, they have had to keep hoping – hoping for peace, hoping for acceptance, hoping for an end to fear, an end to war.
So they have continued to hope.
Five weeks ago, I boarded a plane for the United States. Settling into the roomy extra-leg area I had requested, I noted with satisfaction the two empty adjacent seats.
But even as I relished the prospect of being able to lie down for the long flight over the Atlantic, two Israelis who had been assigned seats elsewhere noticed the vacancies and came over.
Sighing inwardly, I smiled a greeting and, a few minutes later, the gleaming 747 bearing the name “Jerusalem” in its nose lifted off the runway and banked west. Suddenly the Mediterranean was beneath us; the Tel Aviv coastline dropping away behind.
The young man next to me introduced himself as Golan and we began to talk. I learned that he was born in Israel and raised in a family of Zionists. He had served in an elite army unit, proud to be Israeli, and thankful for the opportunity to defend his country. Two of his brothers, Golan informed me, were high-ranking officers in the IDF.
I was somewhat taken aback, then, when with elation in his voice he told me how happy he was to be “heading home.”
“Home?” I asked. “But we are flying away from Israel?”
“Oh,” Golan answered. “I’m married to an American Jew. We have two lovely children. We own a large house not far from New York, and I am a very successful financial advisor.
“America is now my home.”
“But what about Israel?” I wondered.
“Israel?!” It was nearly a snort. “There is no future there.”
“Well,” I answered cautiously, after a few minutes. “I have heard one or two of your countrymen over the past years tell me despairingly how they believe Israel will no longer exist in 50 years’ time. Is that how you feel?”
“We don’t have another 50 years,” he said, sounding resigned. “Maybe 20.”
His words hit me hard. Surely there were not many who felt this way?
But I would hear the same thing again, from two more Jews, on my travels in the following days.
One of them, a woman in upper New York State, wanted to know whether I foresaw another national exile for her people and, if so, whether I thought they could survive it.
For her it was already on the way. Last year – and she was right about this – for the first time since 1948, more Jews left Israel than made aliyah (immigrated).
“It won’t be the end of the world,” she said. “As we survived the second Diaspora, we will survive the third.”
An orthodox Jew in St Louis, MO, said more or less the same thing. “The political Zionist state has proved to be a failure, as many devout Jews long believed it was. Within two decades it will be gone.”
Less than 60 years after they danced in the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to celebrate the unprecedented miracle of their rebirth, Jews are preparing to leave. They are losing their hope.
It is not really surprising that they are.
Instead of the safe haven and new home eretz yisrael was meant to be, it has become the most dangerous place on earth for Jews to live, and is a target for the intensifying hatred of billions around the globe.
No wonder so many are leaving.
No wonder they are losing their hope.
And yet, as I told my flying companion, there is every reason to hope.
“I have hope,” I said. “Great big buckets full of hope for the future of your land and your people. This is why I live in Jerusalem with my family. I may be a gentile, but to me Israel, not South Africa (my old homeland) is home.”
He was astounded by my outlook, my optimism, even my smile. And so I reminded him of what his Bible, his God, had promised.
“More than 3500 years ago,” I said, “Moses, and in the ensuing centuries your other prophets, foretold your global dispersion, and the persecution and suffering the Jews would experience and endure. God promised Israel, through these prophets, that after their exile and trials in foreign places, He would bring them back to their land where they would rebuild the ancient wasteplaces, raise up the ruined cities, and make the desert blossom like a rose.”
“Well,” I asked, “did it happen as He said it would? Did God keep His promise or didn’t He?
“Well then, that was not all He promised, was it? He promised something else, something that would follow, and even exceed, your return home.
“God promised that when He brought you home to eretz yisrael the second time, that He would keep you there ‘as a shepherd keeps his sheep’ and that He would plant you there, never to uproot you again.”
Was God, who had so amazingly kept the first half of His promise, not also able to keep the second half, every word of it?
“Israel is your home, and although it may not look like it just now, God has promised you a hope and a future, a glorious future, in that land.
“Don’t give up on Israel,” I urged him.
After sitting silently for a while, apparently digesting what he had heard, Golan leaned over one more time.
“When I boarded this plane I had no hope for my country,” he said, and his next words brought tears to my eyes.
“I want to thank you,” he said slowly, intensely.
“You have given me some hope again.”