As Israel's first chief rabbi, Abraham Isaac Kook, once pronounced, "Judaism was born with the hope of a land; Israel is Judaism's land of hope."
A few weeks ago, we assembled around our tables and recounted the narrative of our people's journey to freedom.
More than 3,000 years ago, b'yad chazaka u'v'z'roah netu'ya, "with a strong hand and an outstretched arm," God took the Jewish people out of Egypt, saved them from oppression, redeemed them and made them a nation. Then God uttered this promise.
V'hei'vei'tee etchem el ha'aretz, "I will take you into the Land" –but not just any land, the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
And so it was.
But nation upon nation, people after people sought to dislodge and disconnect us from the land. And though they may have succeeded in driving us into dispersion, they could never succeed in driving us into despair. All the while, we, the Jewish people, retained the unadulterated hope that we would return to our land. This was our "Hatikvah."
As Elie Wiesel once stated, "Though we lived outside of Israel, Israel lived inside of us."
Though we prayed outside the land, we always prayed in the direction of the land. Though we suffered the trauma of wandering, the ignominy of exile, the pain and horrors of Holocaust — od lo avda tikvateinu — we never lost our hope that some day, we would return home to Eretz Yisrael.
And so it was.
On the fifth of Iyar, 5708, three score years ago — May 14, 1948 — God brought His people home. He restored a people to its land. But Israel was not born new that day in the land; she was born anew. As England's chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, has remarked, "In ancient days, there — our people was born; in modern days, there — our people was reborn."
And what has Israel wrought?
Sacks continued: "They have taken a barren desert and made it bloom again; they have taken an ancient language — the Hebrew of the Bible, and made it speak again; they have taken the West's oldest faith, and made it young again; and they have taken a tattered, shattered nation, and made it live again."
On the fifth of Iyar, May 14, 1948, erev Shabbat in which the portion of Emor was to be read, David Ben-Gurion stood with pride and dignity in the Dizengoff house in Tel Aviv — surrounded by his provisional cabinet and, no doubt, surrounded by the almost 100 Jewish generations that came before him — and proclaimed the rebirth of Medinat Yisrael, "the State of Israel."
And the world still asks us: What do you really want?
I think Eliezer Melamed, a survivor from Poland best answered this question.
He recounted an incident that took place on Sept. 23, 1942. The Germans surrounded his ghetto, and he and his girlfriend ran into a house and hid behind some sacks of flour. A mother and her three children followed. She hid her children in one room, and then hid herself behind these sacks of flour. Then the Germans came, found the children and viciously dragged them out. One child started to shout "Mama!" His brother put his hand over his sibling's mouth and said in Yiddish: Shrei nisht mama, "Don't call out 'mama,' "men vel ir oykh tzunemen, "They'll take her as well."
What do Jews want, they ask? We simply want to be able to call out "mama" without fear.
On the fifth of Iyar, 5708 — May 14, 1948 — we did just that. Jews from 103 different lands, speaking 85 different languages, returned to the warm embrace of their mother. She called out to us, B'rukhim Habaim yeladai! "Welcome home, my children!"
And we responded: "We will never leave home again."
Rabbi David Gutterman is the executive director of the Vaad: Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia.