Israel at 75: A Nation Built Upon Sacrifice

Ayelet Friedman

I have always had a profound admiration for the Land of Israel from a religious perspective. At a young age, I learned that my heritage was rooted in the land and that my forefathers sacrificed everything they had to ensure their posterity would inherit this God-given gift. I listened with awe to accounts of the miracles the Jewish people merited simply because they were chosen by God. Despite my pre-existing respect and love for Israel, it was only through reading the great speeches of Israel’s most visionary leaders that I also became imbued with a sense of pride and appreciation for the modern, hardworking statesmen who helped mold Israel into the remarkable nation it is today.

Among those trailblazing leaders, Menachem Begin and David Ben-Gurion stand out for their determination, passion, and commitment to our people. These qualities were perhaps best encapsulated in two speeches given at the moment of, and hours following, Israel’s independence.

David Ben-Gurion was the first prime minister of Israel and one of the
key figures involved in the creation of the state. He was a thoughtful, yet compassionate speaker, known for his intellectual depth and political acumen. When announcing the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, he not only galvanized the Jews living in the new State of Israel to defend their land, but also called on world leaders and diaspora Jews for support. At the same time, Ben-Gurion addressed Arab leadership, paving the way for their eventual acceptance of the state.

Ben-Gurion began the Declaration, saying, “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people.” He attests to a fundamental truth—that part of our Jewish identity, even in modern times, is tied to Israel, and what happens in the land should affect us wherever we are as well.

Soon after, Ben-Gurion explains that generations of Jews have prayed for, and wished to visit, the Land of Israel. My own great-grandmother, who escaped the Holocaust, had that dream, one she was sadly unable to realize. Ben- Gurion implies that in honor of those who could not reach our homeland, we must act on their behalf, supporting and investing in the new Jewish State.

Another important theme in Ben-Gurion’s address is the idea of “the natural right of the Jewish people to be like all other nations, standing up on its own, in its own sovereign state.” Aside from Israel being our God-given land, it is only natural that we have the same right as other peoples to act for ourselves, defend ourselves, and, in Ben-Gurion’s words, “preserve the peace.” Ben- Gurion completed the speech by acknowledging that what the leaders of his time had accomplished was a collective age-old dream—a dream that endured in the Jewish soul for over two thousand years. Ben-Gurion and his fellow founders of Israel made this dream a reality and demonstrated that, though many of us remain dispersed throughout the worldMenachem Begin served as Israeli prime minister from 1977 to 1983, and was the leader of the Likud Party. Formed in 1973, Begin’s Likud Party stood for conservatism, economic freedom, and love for the Land of Israel based on its historical and biblical roots. Begin was a charismatic and passionate orator who was known for his strong views on national security, Israeli sovereignty, and the indispensability of the Jewish state., the Land of Israel is our home as Jews.

One of Begin’s most compelling speeches was his May 15, 1948 radio address, delivered just one day after Ben-Gurion’s declaration. With the public embroiled in fear of the impending Arab invasion, Begin spoke openly and honestly, transforming fear and doubt into determination and hope. He combined a sense of grounded realism with his own optimistic vision and unflinching belief in Israeli ability.

Begin reminded the nation that as Jews, “we are surrounded by enemies who long for our destruction.” Even in the most peaceful times, this remains an unfortunate truth, and one that we, as diaspora Jews, must not ignore.

Begin infused his politics with references to Torah and Jewish faith—and this speech was no different. He explained that although the Jews were amidst war, they must still remember the fundamental values of the Torah that forever remain ingrained in the Land of Israel. Determined to unify the people, Begin quoted the Bible, declaring, “remember, you were strangers in the land of Egypt” and “justice, justice, you shall pursue.” He was adamant that despite the dire circumstances, the Biblical obligation of communal support was unwavering. To survive, the people must unite. To flourish, they must build off of one another.

As hopeful as he was, Begin was honest about the difficult road ahead. “Difficult days lie ahead of us,” he declared. “Much blood will be spilled. Fortify yourselves. Strengthen your morale. There is no other way.” Few leaders possess the strength to speak such a hard truth in a time of grave uncertainty. Begin touched on the travesties that had befallen the nation in the past and those that they would soon confront, but spoke with vigor and purpose, reminding the Jews of their strengths and what they could accomplish together.

Though Menachem Begin and David Ben-Gurion did not always share a unified belief on how to act politically, they had a coinciding vision for the necessity of the Land of Israel to the survival and flourishing of the Jewish nation.

It is our God-given right as Jews to remain sovereign in the land, and we must never forget the sacrifices made for us and our future by men like Ben-Gurion and Begin.

We should never take for granted what we have been given by those who fought for us in the past and continue to fight today. We must hold onto the messages in their words and ingrain them in our minds, reminding ourselves of the founders’ unwavering belief in our national potential, and draw inspiration from those words to continue to build the Jewish state for the future.

Ms. Ayelet Friedman is a recent graduate of Bais Yaakov of Baltimore. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

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