A Nation Reborn: Resurrected from the Dust and the Ashes
“Can a nation be born in a single day?” God asked the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 66:8). Indeed, to many, if not most people, it must have seemed impossible when Zionism was birthed at the end of the nineteenth century. How could a persecuted, dispersed, abused, and disenfranchised people like the Jews ever, in their wildest dreams, have expected to be molded into a nation in centuries, much less in a day? Yet, on May 14, 1948, after nearly two millennia of the greatest and most enduring Diaspora of their history, the Jewish people prevailed and their nation was restored, resurrected from the ashes of history.
Some two centuries before this time, the Jewish people had begun to make aliyah, “going up” to the Holy Land that God had deeded to their ancestors nearly four thousand years earlier when he swore an oath to Father Abraham, “I will bless you and your descendants, and I will give them this land [the land of Canaan]” (Genesis 17:4–8). These Jews assumed enormous risks when they listened to their hearts’ outcry to fulfill the dream that their ancestors had had for nearly two millennia: to return to their land, possess it, and build a nation of freedom and security for themselves and their children.
When the Jewish people began a revival of their rightful claim to their nation and their land, the verve and vigor of the young Jews who coalesced into the Zionist Movement were certainly the motive force behind their efforts. Jews would labor intensely and incessantly to bring into reality with all the vigor and determination steeled into the very fiber of their being by centuries of fire and pressure. The Zionist Movement was ready to emerge on the human scene and produce one of history’s most amazing miracles, the full restoration of the long-dormant nation and land of Israel.
By far the most important leader of the Zionist movement that emerged in the late nineteenth century was Theodore Herzl, a Jewish journalist with a doctorate in law who was both a thinker and an organizer. In 1897, Herzl organized the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, a meeting with 200 participants from seventeen nations. Shortly after the congress, Herzl summed up the significance of the three-day meeting as he wrote in his diary, “At Basel I founded the Jewish state. If I said this out loud today I would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it.”
From its inception, the Zionist Movement began to encourage Jewish migration into Ottoman-controlled Palestine, confirming the long-standing view of the Jewish community that the restoration of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland was absolutely essential for Jewish survival in an increasingly hostile world filled with Judaeophobia and antisemitism. The bravery that individual Jews and Jewish families manifest by enduring the inhospitable conditions of a long-neglected land and overcoming the constant dangers of violence against their persons that were lurking in the shadows was key to the restoration of the land and nation of Israel.
Amazing and even miraculous events had been occurring in the lives of the international Jewish community for most of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Balfour Declaration was issued in Britain which formalized the need for the restoration of the Jewish state in Palestine. In 1922, the League of Nations unanimously created a Covenant for Palestine that mandated the formation of a Jewish state in Israel, the land west of the Jordan River. Surely visions of Jewish restoration to their native land were about to be fulfilled.
The rise of the Nazi Party in Germany did not bode well for the Jewish people anywhere in the world and in particular for those who were trapped in Germany and Europe when the doors for immigration into Western Europe and America were gradually closed and finally slammed shut. What had been on track for nearly four centuries was suddenly derailed. The work of restoration was sidetracked. Conspiracy after conspiracy was launched in the halls of Western governments to close every avenue of escape for the Jewish people from the confines of Europe where the cruelest, most diabolical tragedy in human history awaited them. The Holocaust was at hand, and six million Jews would lose their lives in an organized and militarized attempt at the genocide of the Jewish people.
Eventually, however, Germany was defeated, and shortly thereafter serious efforts began for the full restoration of Israel. The newly organized United Nations took up the mantle of the League of Nations and on November 29, 1947, in its General Assembly Resolution 181 resolved to support the formation of the renewed nation of Israel. Finally, on May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization, became the first signatory to the Israeli Declaration of Independence: the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel which reestablished the “Jewish state in Eretz-Israel,” the State of Israel.
Immediately after this declaration, the new Jewish nation was attacked from all sides by militant Muslim nations that sought its destruction. The Israel Defense Forces prevailed, however, and the land of Israel, with the exception of parts of Judea and Samaria that were illegally occupied by the Jordanian armies, was securely in Jewish control.
The nation of Israel continued to be buffeted by its neighbors. Threats and tensions rose until it was clear from the stated intentions of rulers of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and others that a war was soon to be launched that would evict the Jews from their land and drive them into the Mediterranean Sea. Israel, however, had other ideas.
In what has to be one of the most amazing miracles in history, a Jewish state exists and grows stronger every day despite the unrelenting efforts of a host of enemies that have been committed to the cause of destroying what God and the Jewish people have done. Right out of the ashes of the Holocaust, the miracle of life was manifest in the resurrection of the corporate body of world Jewry and their proclamation of the Jewish state in precisely the same geographical setting of God’s promise to Abraham 4,000 years ago. Miracle of life upon miracle of life has been demonstrated in the more than sixty years of modern Israel’s existence. As David Ben-Gurion once said, “Anyone in Israel who does not believe in miracles is not a realist.”