My good friend Yonina Pritzker is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ohr Yisrael in Newton, Massachusetts. In addition to her congregational and community work, she has worked at The David Project on curricula related to Israel, and at CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) as a Research Analyst. She is also the most pro-Israel leader around! In honor of Tu B’Shvat she has written a reminder of what Israel is all about:
When the ancient Temple stood in Jerusalem, and even after its destruction, the income of Israelite farmers was taxed by one tenth. The date which marked the end of one fruit crop and the beginning of the next fruit crop was the 15th day of the month of Shevat. This day, known as Tu B’Shvat, celebrated this year on Thursday, January 16, was considered to be the New Year for trees, just as Rosh HaShanah is our New Year. It was thought that the trees also stood in judgment that day, and their fruitfulness in the upcoming year was decided.
In celebration of Tu B’Shvat, Ashkenazi Jews in Europe would sing Psalms and eat different kinds of fruit from the trees of Israel. During the sixteenth century, the Kabbalists and mystics of Tzfat in Israel developed a Tu B’Shvat Seder, patterned after our Passover Seder. Amidst the drinking of four cups of wine, a multitude of fruit would be eaten
We are taught in the Torah, For the L-rd your G-d is bringing you to a good land: … A land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates; a land of oil-yielding olives and honey. Deuteronomy 8:8
These are the seven species which are associated with the Land of Israel and which we traditionally eat on Tu B’Shvat.
Fifteen times, the Torah refers to the Land of Israel as a “land flowing with milk and honey.” The commentary Rashi explains that “milk” refers to goat’s milk, while “honey” refers to “any sweet juice of a fruit.”
In Midarkai Hailanos we are taught that the Ramban, or Nachmanides, understands “‘a land flowing with milk and honey’ as the highest of praise: It is a good land, its air is good and pleasant for people, and every good thing can be found in it…Its fruit are so plump and sweet that the land runs with their honey.” While Rabbenu Bachyei “insists that ‘all the praises of the Land allude to the Torah itself…’ Even the air of Eretz Yisrael, say our Chachamim, has the capacity to make one wiser. In Rabbenu Bachyei’s opinion this is the ‘milk and honey’ of Eretz Yisrael.”
Our love of and connection to the Land of Israel is as old as our people itself. Israel and Jerusalem hold the deepest religious significance for Jews. Although there are those who keep trying to deny this connection, as well as, politicize Jerusalem, this land and city, which are the objects of our eternal love, will never be a political issue. On the contrary, Israel, the land which bears our name, and Jerusalem, our eternal capital, are the very soul of the Jewish People.
Israel is the religious and spiritual center of the Jewish world. There has been a continuous Jewish presence in the Land of Israel from ancient times until today. The centrality of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people cannot be overstated. Over the millennia, many conquerors tried to absorb Israel within their empires; but in all of these attempts, the land of Israel remained the country of our people, and Jerusalem has served as the capital of only one nation – that of our Jewish nation.
These facts, long-recognized, despite the misinformation that is currently being circulated, were codified in international law at the San Remo Conference of 1920, a meeting of the Allied Powers of WWI, to decide the future of the former territories of the Ottoman Empire. At this conference, where international agreement was also reached regarding the establishment of other countries in the region, such as Syria, and Iraq, a binding agreement was reached between these world powers “to reconstitute the ancient Jewish State within its historic borders.” The desire to restore the Jewish people to their native land was ratified by a unanimous vote of The League of Nations, which then entrusted Great Britain with facilitating Jewish immigration and encouraging “close settlement by Jews on the Land.” This mandate affirmed the Jewish right to settle anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, a right enshrined to this day in international law.
Many attempts have been made to re-write history, attempts to deny the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel. There has been an ongoing effort, by those who want to destroy all evidence of Israel’s connection to the land, to bulldoze the archaeological remains of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, our most sacred Jewish site. These uprooted and destroyed pieces of history are regularly discarded into the valley next to our sacred Temple Mount. There are dedicated groups and individuals who work to salvage these desecrated remains.
There are also those who regularly attempt to advance false narratives about the Land of Israel, to denigrate the modern State of Israel and criminalize the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. They regularly advance false accusations of Israel being occupiers of Arab land, and attempt to criminalize the State of Israel by demanding a boycott of the country.
“Occupation” refers to the holding and control of an area by a foreign force. Given the fact that the Land of Israel was never the sovereign country of any nation but the Jewish one, Jews cannot be deemed “occupiers” in their own land, a fact, once again, affirmed by international law.
Since the founding of the modern State of Israel, Israel has built a thriving country that protects the rights of its citizens, protects freedom of religion and ensures that all religions have access to their religious sites – something that was not allowed when Israel was not governing Jerusalem. Israel protects a free press, minority rights, and women’s rights in a part of the world where such rights and protections are alien. Minorities participate in all areas of civic life, serving as professionals in all fields, as justices, and as diplomats. While the horrific persecution of Christians has become rampant in the Middle East, and the Christian population is dwindling, Israel is a safe haven for such minorities. As the Vicar of St George’s Church in Baghdad Canon Andrew White says of Israel, it is “the only place in the Middle East [where] Christians are really safe.” In fact, the Christian community in Israel is growing.
During the 20th century, when the vast majority of the 850,000 Jews who were living in Arab countries and Iran had to flee for their lives – leaving behind billions of dollars in property in their hundred, or even, thousand-year-old communities – Israel provided a safe haven for approximately 600,000 of these Jewish refugees. Israel continued to provide a homeland for persecuted Jews, such as Jews from the former Soviet Union, Europe, as well as, Jews from Ethiopia who were saved and brought to Israel through such missions as Operation Moses and Operation Solomon. Israel continues to provide a welcoming country for Jews who are fleeing the often violent anti-Semitism that they encounter today around the world.
Israel is a vibrant country of tremendous innovation. Israel is not only the “Start-Up Nation” in the field of technology, producing, among many other inventions, our text messaging, voice mail, and computer technology, but Israel is also among the leaders in medical and environmental innovations.
An imaging system to diagnose malaria, the Pillcam which aids in medical procedures, an electromagnetic brain device for autism and schizophrenia, ReWalk robotic exoskeleton enabling paraplegics to walk and climb stairs without assistance, non-invasive ultrasound surgery that destroys tumors inside the body, Copaxone – the world’s top-selling treatment for multiple sclerosis, this is to name just a few of the countless medical innovations Israel has made.
In a survey conducted of 61 experts from 20 countries, the Haifa-based Technion, Israel’s oldest university, was ranked sixth in the world for entrepreneurship and innovation. The report placed Israel, as a country, in third place for entrepreneurship and innovation, after the US and the UK. Among the Technion’s achievements is the invention of the memory stick, drip irrigation, the Parkinson’s drug Rasagiline, the Iron Dome air defense system and Instant Messaging.
MASHAV, an organization which operates under the auspices of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for decades has been exporting Israeli innovations and sharing with developing countries knowledge of the technologies that helped in Israel’s own development.
Israel regularly brings children and medical personnel from developing countries as part of their Save a Child’s Heart(SACHS) mission. Thousands of youngsters have received emergency heart care from volunteer doctors in Israel. Cardiac surgery and care is provided in Israeli hospitals, while the medical professionals from the visiting countries are trained so that they can bring this knowledge home.
Israel’s desire to contribute is also demonstrated by acting as first responders in times of crisis the world over.
Israel provided aid to Southeast Asia after the tsunami of 2004. In 2010, Israel was among the first nations to send relief and rescue units to Haiti after the earthquake. A mother of a baby delivered at the field hospital Israel had set up named the baby “Israel” in gratitude.
In 2011, Israel sent aid to Turkey after a massive earthquake hit the country’s eastern region.
Israel sent an aid team to Japan at the time of the earthquake and tsunami of 2011.
In Boston, in the wake of the horrific Marathon Day bombings, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital credited Israel with training the hospital’s first-response team and readying it to treat mass-casualty incidents.
And in response to the typhoon in the Philippines, a 150-member delegation, as well as, 100 tons of humanitarian and medical supplies were dispatched in aid. The Israeli field hospital became the central medical facility in the area, treating on average over 300 patients a day.
This is the reality of modern Israel: a nation that has rebuilt her ancestral homeland, and, in a span of only 65 years, has become a leader in innovation and in life-saving programs and technologies, a nation which continually reaches out a hand to contribute productively and compassionately the world over.
On Tu B’Shvat, as we celebrate our cherished Jewish homeland, we think of our beloved State of Israel, with love, pride, and gratitude.
About the Author: Yishai Fleisher is a Contributing Editor at JewishPress.com, Chief Editor at JNi.media, talk-show host, and International Spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, an Israeli Paratrooper, a graduate of Cardozo Law School, and the founder of Kumah ("Arise" in Hebrew), an NGO dedicated to promoting Zionism and strengthening Israel's national character. Yishai is married to Malkah, and they live on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem with their children.
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