A couple of weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and while trying to fall back to sleep, started thinking about a sermon for Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. I’m not a big fan of gematria, the system of using the numeric value of the Hebrew letters to arrive at some important teaching but I still tried to find something unique about the number 64 as this is Israel’s 64th birthday. Nothing came to mind but the Beatles’ song: When I’m 64. And, it suddenly dawned on me what a perfect text this was for the occasion.
The truth is that others seem to have the same idea as I found that several people, including Rabbis, came to the same conclusion even if their resulting thoughts were different than mine. It is perfectly appropriate that we ask the question about Israel- or assume Israel is asking the question about us- “Will you still need me, will you still feed me,when I’m 64”.
I’m planning on posting the sermon I gave on the subject on our website but, for now, I’ll summarize my points. First, to the question of whether we “need” Israel as Jews, I would give a resounding answer “Yes” for many different reasons beyond its critical role as home to many Jews and a haven for Jews in distress. Israel can be the concretization of the values and priorities we hold as Jews and as such it represents the potential for bringing into real life situations all that we, in the diaspora, think of only in theory or only in the limited but crucial areas of our homes or synagogues.
But, the deepest relationships can not be characterized by simple answers. And, if you read Paul McCartney’s words, they are far from simple.
The man in the song singing to his wife, hoping she will love him despite the changes age brings, recognizes that they each have roles. His role is to mend a fuse. Her role is to sit by the fireside knitting a sweater. Similarly, regarding Israel, our relationship with the Jewish State must be based on each of us having roles. Israel’s role is clear and must take center stage. But, our role can not be just to sit by the fireside watching and nodding approvingly. Our role must be to be engaged to the greatest extent possible in asking Israel to stand up for what is important to us: pluralism in Jewish religious life instead of bending over backwards to satisfy ultra-Orthodox Jews, living by the values that we teach our children are the core of what it means to be a Jew, continuing to seek peace and pursue it. These and other issues need our voices and our passionate involvement.
But, there is one way in which the song diverges from the reality facing Israel. The man singing the song knows that, at 64, there is more of his life behind him than ahead. He can be forgiven at this age- more on this later- for not worrying about great and glorious dreams but being satisfied getting through the next day or the next month surviving and living on memories and hopes for his grandchildren’s future.
This is because human beings have a finite lifespan. Ideas do not. Nations do not. An idea, like Zionism and a nation, like Israel, can not stop dreaming, can not stop passionately hoping for a better future and be satisfied only with surviving another year or another century. What so many of us outside of Israel fear is that Israel has lost that sense of youth, that sense of passion to improve life for its people and to be a light unto the nations. No one would argue that survival isn’t the bottom line but, as we teach about our lives as human beings, survival is not enough- it is what we do with our lives which is crucial.
I think that had McCartney written that song today, he probably would have changed it to: When I’m 84, as our vision of 64 has changed. So, even if you believe that the question of: “Will you still need me, will you still feed me” regarding Israel has an obvious answer now, look ahead 20 years and ask what our children and grandchildren will be thinking. If they feel that Israel doesn’t need them, doesn’t listen to their concerns, doesn’t represent them and doesn’t live by the values they have been taught as Jews, they will not send the birthday greetings or drink the l’chaims to Israel that we, who have grown up with the State, still do each and every year.
May the years to come see both Israel and Diaspora Jews reigniting the passion necessary to make this relationship work far, far into the future. It will be for our and for Israel’s benefit in the deepest sense of the word.