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The Greatest Experiment of Them All

Socialist enclaves. The revival of an ancient language. Oases in the desert. A Hebrew metropolis. A Jewish Democracy. Bamba, nargilla, El Al.

This day, Israel, the Jewish State, the Third Jewish Commonwealth, turns sixty. I’m sure the country is replete right now with flags and parties and many a drunk Jew.

But here in Brooklyn, on a rainy spring Thursday, I have the luxury of sitting back and reading about Israel’s celebration from afar. What is the world saying? What do we make of this day?

It was just an idea, after all. Bring Jews from the four corners of the Earth back to their ancient land, one flowing with milk and honey, and build a modern nation there, a nation like any other. Could it work? Should it work?

And, these days, we take for granted just how controversial an idea it was. Zionism divided the Jewish people less than a century ago. Today the world hates us for it, but that Zionism is an authentic Jewish expression is, mostly, taken for granted.

Sixty years later, it seems that the dream worked. There are Jewish policemen arresting Jewish robbers. A state like any other indeed.

Bureaucracy. War. Impatience. Discrepancies. Discrimination.

There are more than enough reasons to hate the place, to be embarrassed every time I pick up a newspaper.

We made a state. Great. For what? So we could be blown up in pizza parlors and have a government paralyzed by the ultra-Orthodox?

And so I cry.

But I cry because I love.

I love the place my family never moved to, though they considered it, long before I was born. I love the place on the other side of the world where I will always be an other; I will never understand fully, never fully be a part.

I love it because it is family. It is not just their story, it is mine.

Two thousand years from now, our children’s children will look back on the history of the Third Commonwealth, and perhaps they’ll be studying a contemporary reality, or perhaps they’ll search the pages of a book to understand what was a momentary aberration in Jewish existence.

Maybe it will succeed, and maybe it will not.

But that will be then. And this is now.

And now, my brothers, on the other side of the world, have built a thriving Jewish democracy. It has its problems. But it exists against all odds.

The return of Hebrew? Yeah right!

Farms in the desert? Impossible!

Jews, working together, and with Arabs (sometimes), to build a modern, successful, wealthy and healthy country? You’re dreaming.

Hertzl was. And we know what he said about dreams.

Speaking to the Financial Times of London this week, Israeli Historian Tom Segev noted “Israel is an experiment that has not succeeded and has not failed.”

And in that limbo between success and failure, it has done some pretty amazing things. It is one experiment that I celebrate, that I love in all its goodness and wrongdoings.

Happy Birthday.

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