As you enter the Knesset, Israel’s parliament building, you pass a replica of the Declaration of Independence. The first line states, “We hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael.”
I write this week from Jerusalem as I lead the delegation of the inaugural Sinai Temple Rabbinical School Fellowship. Joining me are 16 students representing eight seminaries across North America, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and nondenominational. There are very few subjects Rabbis of different denominations can agree upon, but the establishment and existence of a Jewish state is one of them.
Granted, what that Jewish state may look like can have 15 different ideas, but the existence of the state is the foundation of the conversation.
In his new book Impossible Takes Longer, Rabbi Daniel Gordis takes the Declaration of Independence line by line and expands on if Israel today has met its goals. The word for establish in Hebrew is kam, but that root is also found in the Biblical word komemiyut, which is used during the Exodus to describe the people of Israel standing up straight once again.
This Rabbinical School mission has done just that. We have explored different views of Zionism: left, right, and center, and we have visited Jewish, Palestinian, and Israeli Arab communities. We have met people born in Israel before it became a state, and we have met people who made Aliyah within the last 12 months.
One of those people is Anna Boradenko. Anna’s parents were from Ukraine and made Aliyah in the 1990s. When Anna was nine-years-old, her family moved back to Ukraine to start a business. Last year on February 24, as the siren sounded in war in Ukraine for the first time, Anna and her family didn’t know what to do.
They got in their car with the clothes on their backs and drove to the Ukrainian border. They were much luckier than their neighbors. With an Israeli passport in hand, Anna walked over the border ready to return to Israel. After weeks of depression, she found the strength to stand up straight again, and applied for a job at the employment center of JNF-USA, where today she is helping 700 other immigrants from Ukraine find jobs using their best talents.
Anna is but one of the many stories of people who call Israel home and she is representative of that Declaration of Independence with the ability to stand upright in her life once again.
37 people signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence. They had faith in the miracle of a Jewish State. They knew it would not be easy and they knew the Israel we have today is also not easy. There are internal and external challenges. And through it all, that word kam, stand up straight, must continue to shine through.
More than the sites we have seen, I have witnessed 16 future Rabbis build a trust in each other so that when difficult times arise, they too can remember that word, kam, stand up, and they will hold each other up to stand for the Israel they have seen, a beacon of light to our world.