With Israel now entering her 70th year, it would be foolish to ignore the significance of 70 years of existence. What applies to individuals can also apply to the nation. For example, “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Prov. 16:7) This is true on an individual level. How much more would it apply to a nation? In the same manner, Moses indicated: “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years” (Psalm 90:10). With eyes open to what is happening around us and throughout the world, it would not be unreasonable to believe that God is preparing the stage to complete His program. To do that, a 7-year agreement needs to be signed, the Third Temple needs to be built and an unprecedented time of time of trial and tribulation needs to occur. We live in an age of immediacy, when events take place before we realize what is happening. May we behave like the sons of Issachar “men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:22). These will be interesting days indeed, particularly as we celebrate the Jubilee Year of the unification of Jerusalem.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ISRAEL!
People are more flexible than iron. We go through times of bending, but can stand up straight again. Maybe that is what King David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel, had in mind when he wrote:
“I will extol You, O LORD, for You have lifted me up and have not let my enemies rejoice over me. O LORD my God, I cried to You for help and You healed me. O LORD, You have brought up my soul from Sheol; You have kept me alive, that I would not go down to the pit. Sing praise to the LORD, you His godly ones. And give thanks to His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy [comes] in the morning…You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with with gladness” (Psalm 30:1-5, 11).
It was an emotion-filled week. On April 24, Israel officially commemorated the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day (the “Shoah”), perhaps the darkness period in the recent history of mankind, when an official, organized attempt was made to end Jewish existence. When the numbers were in, six million Jews were killed – secular and religious, young and old, men, women and children. Sirens sounded through the land and a minute of silence was observed in the evening of the 23rd, marking the beginning of the day of remembrance and another two-minute siren was sounded the following morning. The media was filled with stories of heroism in the midst of murder, demonstrations of love in the midst of blind hatred, unselfish-sacrifice to save the lives of others, separation and reunion, slave labor, medical experimentation without consent or pain killers, mass shootings, mass extermination, bravery, escape and building a country out of the ashes of the Holocaust. The numbers that were tattooed on the arms of children and youth are still visible and clear. Families were established and some of the survivors have been blessed to see their great-grandchildren being born in Israel. With all of the stories came the seemingly never-ending flow of tears, along with the thoughts of aunts, uncles and cousins, who perished in concentration camps, who died on forced death marches, who were gassed to death or burned in ovens, of some whose ashes are mixed with countless others and still visible in the Maidanek death camp. Coming to terms with the past is always traumatic and, sometimes, the events leave us with more questions than answers. For some, the trauma of the Holocaust has accompanied them until today. For most of them, their experiences and remembrances of times, events and people remain vivid. We cannot enter into them, we cannot say “we understand”, because we don’t and we can’t. Those memories of the nightmare of the Holocaust will remain etched in their memories as much as the numbers which remain on their forearms. Yet, the survivors pressed on, they re-built their lives, they contributed to their communities and to the country and they watch, with ever-increasing concern, the rise of anti-semitism once again.
The day ended and a week went by. But, with the setting sun on April 30th, Israel once again commemorated a national day of remembrance, this time for the 23,544 members of the military and security forces who had fallen, as well as for the 3,117 victims of terror throughout our relatively short history. A million and a half Israelis, approximately one-fifth of the country, paid their respects at military cemeteries around the country. At 11:00 a.m., the country came to a stand-still, as a siren wailed for 2 minutes. Once again, traffic stopped along the highways and in the middle of local streets, as their occupants stood outside until the sirens ended. Special ceremonies were held in schools and public places around the country in honor of those who had fallen. The price for our freedom has been high and painful and every year the numbers increase. Again, throughout the night and the following day, the fallen entered our homes through the media, through stories, photos, family and friends who remained behind. Everyone in the country seemed to know someone who had died in one of our wars, or who had been killed as a result of a terrorist incident. These were not numbers, but people whom we knew, with whom we grew up, with whom our children went to school, with whom we worked, neighbors or the relative of a friend. Much of the country was riveted to the television, as the lives of the young, the very young and the not so young, were made personal to us. Each story was accompanied by pain, sorrow, heartache and empathy until our wells of tears had gone dry, only to be amazingly renewed with the next story. The tragedies of war, mixed with heroism, bravery and sacrifice, filled our minds and thoughts, as they were accompanied by stories of victims of terror. For some, the pain of loss is constant, for others it is unbearable. How could we go through this year after year? More to the point, how can we not go through it? Choosing not to remember is another way of saying that we choose to forget. This we cannot and should not. It is part and parcel of our existence in the land promised by God to our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But, like Joshua of old, we needed to fight to take hold of it … and to keep it.
As always, the day was accompanied by official ceremonies and lots of speeches. Every speech I heard contained a longing for peace. Some had references to the prophecies in the Tenach and statements from the Psalms. One of them referred to Psalm 84:5 – “They [the surrounding nations] have said, “Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation, That the name of Israel be remembered no more.”
I cringed when the speakers boasted of our military prowess and of how we can depend on the Israel Defence Forces for our safety and protection. It is true that our military forces are strong and capable. But, we should never forget that Israel’s greatest victories in battle took place when God fought for Israel. We need to keep focused on the One Who called us, gave us purpose and continues to watch over us, even though sometimes it appears that He does so from afar. King Solomon expressed it well: “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, But victory belongs to the LORD.” (Proverbs 21:31). Our enemies fail to understand God has stated: “[Whoever] touches you touches the apple of His eye.” (Zechariah 2:8) God will surely raise His hand against them” (v. 2:9).
Once is a while, a world leader grabs hold of an understanding of God’s Word, as it relates to Israel. President John F. Kennedy, addressing the Zionists of America Conference on August 26, 1960, while he was still a Senator, stated, in part:
“I returned in 1951 to see the grandeur of Israel. In 3 years this new state had opened its doors to 600,000 immigrants and refugees. Even while fighting for its own survival, Israel had given new hope to the persecuted and new dignity to the pattern of Jewish life. I left with the conviction that the United Nations may have conferred on Israel the credentials of nationhood; but its own idealism and courage, its own sacrifice and generosity, had earned the credentials of immortality.
“Israel was not created in order to disappear – Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom.
“It is worth remembering, too, that Israel is a cause that stands beyond the ordinary changes and chances of American public life. In our pluralistic society, it has not been a Jewish cause – any more than Irish independence was solely the concern of Americans of Irish descent. The ideals of Zionism have, in the last half century, been repeatedly endorsed by Presidents and Members of Congress from both parties. Friendship for Israel is not a partisan matter. It is a national commitment.“ (my emphasis)
The day of mourning ended and, almost inconceivably, the national attitude became one of rejoicing. The reason for such rejoicing – Israel’s 69th year of independence. The official, opening ceremony in Jerusalem included the lighting of memorial flames by twelve individuals, who were chosen for special recognition and honor by the State of Israel. There were the usual speeches, all uplifting, all encouraging, all filled with a spirit of hope and peace. But, there was something uniquely special about the speeches at this year’s independence day celebration – a focus on 50 years of the unification of Jerusalem, Israel’s holy and eternal city, following the Six-Day War in June, 1967.
We should keep a careful eye on events here, as the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War draws nearer. And, we should start with the warped decision of UNESCO, rendered today, May 2, 2017, Israel’s 69th Year of Independence. By a 22-10 vote today, of all days, that UN-organization demonstrated once again that it continues to function without both oars in the water, this time disavowing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.
The Draft Decision of the Executive Board of UNESCO, titled “Item 30: OCCUPIED PALESTINE”, at paragraph 3, noted that its decision today did not affect in any way prior decisions of the Security Council and United Nations resolutions and decisions on the legal status of Palestine and Jerusalem, including United Nations Security Council resolution 2334 (2016).”
It went on to state, under Article 30.1, Jerusalem, paragraph 5: “Reminding that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the “basic law” on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith.“
In essence, this pathetic organization, which seems to attempt to justify its continued existence in order to dump on Israel, concluded that Israel has no authority or sovereignty over Jerusalem.
But, Israel has learned to take decisions of the UN-organization with a grain of salt, particularly the those that are made by UNESCO. Carmel Shama, Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO even viewed this latest statement as a “significant victory”, given the number of countries who either supported Israel or abstained. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was of a similar mindset and referred to today’s vote as “absurd” and that “the number of countries who support this absurd UNESCO resolution is getting smaller”, noting that the number of nations that supported the anti-Israel resolution dropped from 32 states last year to 22 states now. Our numbers are improving. Before the proposal was voted upon, the Prime Minister referred to it at the annual International Bible Quiz, saying: “I know that today there is a vote in UESCO that will try to deny that simple truth, we reject UNESCO”, adding that throughout the course of Jewish history, Jerusalem was “the heart of the people, the place to which everyone turned to, went to, and prayed toward.“
As expected, the United States voted against the measure, as did six European Union countries. A total of twenty-three countries abstained, while three did not even show up for the vote. Ambassador Shama sees the increased support for Israel as a “significant victory”.
As noted by former President Kennedy, Israel is here to stay. The best evidence of this is the Israeli flag flying on the Temple Mount and on the streets of Jerusalem. The “majority” is not always right!
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you.” (Psalm 122:6).
“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, May my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy.” (Psalm 137:5-6)
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing. Have a great week.