Sixty-five years ago, at a restaurant in New York in late April, Alexandre Parodi, the first ambassador of France to the United Nations, asked Chaim Weizmann: “How can a few hundred thousand of you stand up against millions?”
The veteran French diplomat was referring to the situation in Mandatory Palestine. The Jews there were expected in a matter of days to proclaim a sovereign state of their own. That proclamation, in turn, was expected to unleash an onslaught of surrounding Arab armies determined to render the new Jewish state stillborn.
It was to this imminently unfolding reality that Parodi, aghast at the renewed possibility of the wholesale slaughter of Jews, aimed his question.
Echoing the words of our ancient sages, the 74-year-old scientist/statesman, who would be appointed Israel’s first president, answered Parodi quickly: “Numbers were not decisive.”
Israel suffered enormous casualties in its war of survival against the attacking Arab armies. Fully one per cent of its 600,000 people were killed in the fighting. But Weizmann proved to be correct.
The vastly larger enemy armies were repulsed.
In his typically magisterial manner, British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explained the ethereal significance of the birth of the State of Israel.
“There have been moments [of modern Jewish history] – especially in relation to the State of Israel – that can only be compared with the wonders of the Bible. Perhaps we are too close to be able to see their miraculous character. One day, though, historians will look back at the second half of the 20th century and wonder at how a people that in the Holocaust had come face to face with the angel of death responded by reviving a land, recovering its sovereignty, rebuilding Jerusalem, rescuing threatened Jews through the world, and proving itself as courageous in pursuit of peace as in defending itself in war.”
The dream of the Jewish state at peace with its neighbours has not yet been realized. Nor is the state without difficult, complicated, societal flaws. But next week, on the fifth day of Iyar, let us take a moment to reflect upon the miraculous character of the state’s birth. Let us joyfully and gratefully celebrate the 65th anniversary of this remarkable, tiny state.
We cannot help but believe that the miracles of modern Jewish history and especially in relation to the State of Israel are ongoing, even if we do not always see them.
Thus, let us commit and recommit, to help make those miracles more evident to ourselves and to an increasingly hostile world, or in the words of its Declaration of Independence, “to rally round” and “stand by” the State of Israel in its ongoing efforts to achieve peace and to create a more perfect society.
The Jewish people’s “age-old dream” is not yet fully realized. But we have not lost our hope.