Office of the Chief Rabbi

Chief Rabbi’s Yom Ha’atzmaut address 5776

Watch the Chief Rabbi’s address at the Bnei Akiva Yom Ha’atzmaut ceremony that was held at Kinloss (Finchley United) Synagogue last night. A full transcript follows.

“Dayan Simons, Rabbanim nechmadim, Secretary of State, Your Excellency the Israeli Ambassador, Mayor of Barnet, Presidents of the United Synagogue, the Board of Deputies and many other communal organisations, Members of Parliament , distinguished guests Morai v’Rabbotai. It is always a great pleasure, and we have a sense of thrill to attend and participate in the Bnei Akiva-led commemoration of Yom Hazikaron and celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut.

Thank you so much Rabbi Lawrence and the Kinloss community for hosting this evening again in such magnificent style. And may I at the outset in anticipation thank the chaverim of t’nuat Bnei Akiva for the incredible ruach which we will surely enjoy this evening. Bearing in mind the significant impact that Bnei Akiva has on the landscape of British Jewry, I would like this evening, with your permission, to devote my words to the chaverim of the t’nuah.

When it comes to our feelings about Medinat Yisrael, I believe that there are two terms primarily which describe our connection with the state. They are ahava and ga’aava – the love we have for Israel, and the pride we take in her significant achievements. The love we have for Israel flows naturally.

Once Chaim Weizmann was asked “Why do you undertake such strenuous efforts to create a Jewish state in Palestine, when it would be so easy for you to establish a Jewish state in Uganda?”

Weizmann replied “Your question is tantamount to me saying to you ‘Why yesterday did you travel 100 hundred miles to go and see your mother? Did you not know that there are many women of her age living on your street?’ ”

Ever since the time of Avraham Avinu and Sara Imeinu and their Lech Lecha – the first imperative given to them at the dawn of the existence of our people, we have had a natural relationship with the land of Israel, and it has been an integral part of our Jewish psyche. Throughout close to 2,000 years of our absence from the land, we have prayed three times a day v’techezena eineinu, looking forward to our return to the country. Zion has been central to our Jewish identity and our Tzionut had described a central pillar upon which Judaism has always stood.

And in a more modern context, Zionism describes the right of the Jewish people, like every people on earth, to express its own self-determination, to having its own country within secure borders. Sadly not everyone signs up to that fact and that reality. Not everyone agrees with our belief in Zionism.

Let that not stop us for one single moment, from standing up to be counted and to shout out loudly  with clarity that Zionism is an integral part of our Judaism, that we are proud to be Jewish and that we will always be proud to be Zionist.

I find that when people come to Israel for the first time, the strongest impression that they get out of their visit is how tiny the country is. They are amazed at how small Israel is and consequently how vulnerable she is. And yes, Israel is tiny. In terms of land mass, Israel is only 1 tenth of 1 percent of the whole of the Middle East. In terms of population Israel has 1.6 percent of the population of the Middle East, and yet in 68 short, remarkable years, Israel has achieved so much, and as a result we can rightly be proud of her.

We can be proud of the fact that Israel has the highest proportion of academic study in the world, we can be proud of the fact that Israel has the highest proportion of museums, the highest proportion of start-ups. Indeed, the world owes it to Israel that we have phenomena such as Whatsapp and Messenger and the USB stick. We are indebted to Israel for the fact that we now have the Pillcam which you swallow, and it can take images of what’s happening inside your internal organs enabling medical science to become phenomenally advanced. Thanks to Israel we have the OrCam, as a result of which visually-impaired people can now see. Thanks to Israel we have voicemail and text messaging. And also thanks to Israel we have cherry tomatoes and so many other things.

Jerusalem, the first city in the world to be covered in its entirety by Wifi. Beer Sheva, the city which per capita has the highest number of chess Grand Masters in the world. Ashkelon, the city which has the largest dog cemetery in world, bearing testament to the love and affection that we have for all of God’s creatures. Tel Aviv, the city outside of Tokyo which has the highest number of Sushi bars per square metre in the world. Haifa, the city with the shortest railway line in the world, which takes you up to the top of Har Carmel. The Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee, the lowest sweet water lake in the world.

Israel’s got it all – the highest, the lowest, the best, the most spectacular in so many areas of endeavour. Just look at the land; 60% of Israel is desert, and yet Israel is the only country in the world today within which the number of trees increases year on year. Flowers, what incredible flowers are grown in Israel. For Valentine’s Day in February this year, over 60 million flowers were exported from Israel to Europe just for that one day.

Cows, Israeli cows, are the champions of the world in milk production. Crembo, originally an item of Danish confectionery, now eaten most often in Israel; over 50 million Crembos devoured in any one winter. Bamba. You can’t count the number of those peanut-styled pieces as a result of which Israel is the only country in the world within which children hardly ever have peanut allergies. And Garrinim, Israel’s the world leader, the number one in her love through indeed being absolutely nuts about the Garrinim.

Israel is amongst only 8 countries which have sent a satellite into space. Israel per capita has more Nobel Prize Laureates than any other country in the world and in the field of science alone, nine recipients of the prize. Israel is amongst the 10 countries which have the highest age expectancy. You can expect on average to live to the age of 83 in Israel.

And with regards to the Global Happiness Index – I don’t know if you’ve heard about that – a genuine, thorough survey undertaken within the 198 countries in the world to determine how happy the citizens are, Israel came 11th. Now isn’t that just incredible? A country which faces a daily existential threat, and people have genuine happiness and joy, and peace of mind? What an incredible country! We love it! We’re proud of it! And it goes much deeper than that.

The Gemara in Masechet Kiddushim teaches us ten portions so beauty descended upon the world; Jerusalem took nine of them.  And as is the case when it comes to physical beauty, it’s lovely to have external beauty, but it’s more important to have internal beauty. So too with Yerushalayim – externally she is spectacularly beautiful but internally there is kiddusha, holiness, ruach hanyut, spirituality in Yerushalayim that you simply cannot experience in any other place on earth. Ki miTzion tetzei Torah u dvar Hashem miYerusahlim – out of Zion goes forth the Torah and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. There was a time when the centre of Torah study was in Europe. Alas, our enemies sought to destroy that and succeeded in large measure to do so.

There was a time when we thought that North America would be the primary home of Torah in the world, and indeed today, Baruch Hashem, in Europe and in America and right around the world, Torah study is at an all-time high. There has never before been a generation in the history of the world in which there has been so much Torah study. But right at the heart of it is Medinat Yisrael. Israel is our spiritual home, and thanks to Torat Yisrael, studied by Am Yisrael within Medinat Yisrael, Israel continues to be our sacred and spiritual anchor, giving direction and inspiration to Jewish people and many others right around the globe.

And it is within our Torah values that Israel inspires her citizens to act and to behave, and let me give you just one example of this. It is the concept of Tohar HaNesheck. Isn’t that an incredible concept? Purity of Arms. The soldiers of Tzahal, the IDF, fighting to defend the citizens of Israel, must at all times be conscious of their responsibility to look after innocent civilians behind enemy lines at the same time.

Tohar HaNesheck, the Purity of Arms, is such an incredible, unparalleled principle within the world of warfare. It is a product of our Torah ideology, and we can be immeasurably proud of the successes of Tzahal and the efforts undertaken by our soldiers under incredible pressure, under the very threat of life, to guarantee that innocent people will not perish.

This is all part of the Israel we love, and the Israel we are so proud of. Chaverim of Bnei Akiva. I would like to thank you for the ahava, the love that you extend to Israel, the ga’ava, the pride that you take in her achievements. I would like to thank you – often you are playing out your lives within a context in which there is such a chorus of such unjustified condemnation against Israel, but that does not in any way dim your recognition of the reality of Israel, neither is your love ever lowered for her, and your pride in her gives us so much chizuk, so much inspiration to us and to so many others. Please continue to do just that.

Your way of life under the banner of Torah v’Avodah, rooted in Israel, is such a remarkable mission statement for life, enabling those of you who will live your lives here to do so in the exemplary Jewish way, and those of you will make Aliyah to be an outstanding part of Medinat Yisrael. Thank you for your ahava and your ga’ava.

And during the coming year, the 69th year of Medinat Yisrael, may we continue with ahava and ga’ava; pure, totally natural love for our state, and deep pride in all her genuine achievements, and may HaKadosh Barachu bless her, that she may go Mehayil El Hayil, from strength to strength in all of her attainments, in peace and with security. Oseh shalom bimromav, Hu ya’aseh shalom aleynu, Ve’al kol yisrael, Ve’imru Amen.”

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