Seventy-five years ago this week, the Jewish community of Palestine (known as the yishuv) gathered in the art museum of Tel Aviv—then a city of less than 200,000 inhabitants—in order to perform a resurrection. Thirty-seven people—36 men and one woman—were about to sign Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which would reestablish Jewish political sovereignty in the Holy Land for the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple 2,000 years ago.
They gathered in that museum just three years after the liberation of Auschwitz, just three years after six million Jews were murdered in Europe, to establish Israel as a place where the Jewish people could at last control their own fate and destiny and safety. More than that, in the land of Israel, there was a sense—not just among religious Jews, but all Jews—that they were finally going home.
The Israel of the early days—poor, socialist, secular, where food rationing was the norm— feels so far away. Now, Israel is an economic superpower, a world leader in high tech. And the socialist left that built the country has given way to a political right that dominates the Jewish state. But throughout its 75 years, Israel has always prided itself on being the world’s only Jewish democracy. A liberal democracy in a sea of undemocratic regimes.
Now, hundreds of thousands of Israelis are worried that that identity—an identity that Israelis pride themselves on and have defended since its existence—is in danger. They’ve been taking to the streets, night after night for the past five months, with Israeli flags in their hands chanting and demanding one thing: “democratya.” Democracy.
One of those people is my guest today, Daniel Gordis: rabbi, academic, American Israeli, and author of eight books, including the just published Impossible Takes Longer: 75 Years After Its Creation, Has Israel Fulfilled Its Founders’ Dreams?
On today’s episode, Danny helps us make sense of this complicated, tumultuous, beautiful, often indecipherable place: What did Israel’s founders want for the country? Has their promise been fulfilled? How did the Jewish people manage to become a world economic powerhouse after two in every three European Jews had been slaughtered? And in light of the ongoing political turmoil, what does the future of this small, miraculous country—both Jewish and democratic—hold?
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