By the time we share this letter, first results will be arriving from Israel’s national parliamentary elections. By this afternoon (our time), the people of Israel will have been invited to vote a second time in six months, an unprecedented occurrence in Israel’s seven decade history. Against the backdrop of Israel’s challenges from without and within, let us also take a moment to recognize this special moment in Israel’s life.
As we all know, Israel’s war of independence only ended in July 1949 when Syria was the last of Israel’s enemies to sign one of the Armistice Agreements with the young Jewish state. The conclusion of these negotiations left Israel with armistice (or internationally sanctioned ceasefire) lines, rather than permanent borders, as well as a new refugee and national-security crisis that has defied resolution. Yet, over the past seventy years Israel has become a haven for Jewish migrants, grown, and evolved into a vibrant, participatory, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-vocal democracy. It would be among the first democracies in the world to elect a woman, Golda Meir, to lead a major political party and government as Prime Minister. In the meantime, Israel’s centers of higher education, arts and cultural institutions, and high concentration of leading authors, film-makers, artists, and musicians started paving new ways and gaining international attention and recognition for their work. Israel’s private sector, which has grown and evolved beyond recognition during the past forty years, would produce innovation and contributions that improve lives and well-being throughout the world every day. Most importantly, Israel has remained a robust democracy characterized by an independent judiciary, a free and vocal press, as well as free and fair elections. In short, we recognize that challenges to Israel’s security and well-being, as well as its social cohesion and core institutions face a set of complex threats and challenges. Yet, we must not lose sight of its extraordinary achievements and boundless energy. In the midst of a series of unfolding crises and concerns, let us also take a moment to celebrate the conclusion of an almost entirely non-violent, free, and robust democratic exercise there.
In the coming days, we will have occasion to discuss Israel’s national elections. We hope that you would join us for our panel discussion on these elections at 7:30 pm on Saturday, September 21. It will be followed by a dessert reception at 8:30 pm and our beautiful Selichot Service at 9:30 pm. In the meantime, let us pray for peace and justice in Israel and throughout the Middle East. May Israel and its leaders find the wisdom and the courage to overcome its difficulties and obstacles and lead this unique country towards the prophetic ideals that animated its founders and stirred the world.
With all good wishes toward the conclusion of this Jewish year and a sweet and healthy New Year,
Rabbi Jonathan Cohen