Tomorrow, May 9th, at 11 in the morning, thousands of Montrealers of all faiths and backgrounds will march from Cabot Square to Place du Canada to celebrate Israel’s 71st independence Day. It is important to all of us – as members of the family of free people – that we be there. Now more than ever.
If the Jewish people – in its national as well as religious manifestation - is the “canary in the mineshaft of history,” a phrase regularly employed by historians, then Israel is the living testament of western civilization's ability to innovate and thrive. A testament that no matter how small a nation is, with enough determination and co-operation it can flourish and achieve greatness.
Tomorrow we celebrate the greatness of a nation that despite security concerns, has become a cultural, economic and scientific beacon for the entire world. Tomorrow we celebrate a nation whose very diversity has fused into a powerful human experience for overcoming adversity.
We all know of Israel's great achievements. In literature,medicine and science the number of Nobel Prize winners is of historic proportions in total numbers not just relative to its population. In the arts, Israeli musicians, painters, dancers and actors span the globe with their talents. Its universities rank with the world's finest. In business, Israel has more publicly listed companies on the New York exchanges than any countries except the United States and China. Almost daily, medical innovations spring out of Israel that save lives everywhere. Without its technological discoveries, we could not have perfected cellphones, personal computers and the entire gambit of communication and information hardware and software that have revolutionized our modern era. And yes, it has a military of leading technological and strategic prowess, but also one of deep compassion and humanity.
Yet perhaps its greatest strength is rarely discussed. And that is that Israel is not merely a Jewish miracle. It is a miracle that belongs to people of many creeds and faiths. Truly a miracle of diversity overcoming adversity.
It is fashionable in the west, in recent years, to speak of diversity being a nation's strength. Yet there is perhaps no nation that has understood this from its very beginnings better than Israel. Not only did Israel have to forge its diverse Jewish population speaking over 50 mother tongues into one, but it is too often unmentioned in the west that over one-quarter of the population of Israel is Christian and Muslim. And they have contributed greatly to the growth of this miracle on a small part of the eastern Mediterranean shore.
From its very beginning, Israel's non-Jewish population - with full civil and political rights - has been on the frontlines of Israeli progress. Today, when other nations speak of strength through diversity, they could do much worse than to look at Israel as an example. From Druze citizens, who are free from the draft yet volunteer to serve in the Israel Defence Forces in great numbers many rising to,officer rank, to Muslim Israelis who fill the ranks of the judiciary, the civil service and the diplomatic corps.
Israel is a shining example of tolerance, open democracy and shouldering one's fair share of the burden of mankind's troubles. What other country could integrate so many immigrants so successfully - regardless of national or racial origin - as Israel has done in just over the past several decades with Russian and Ethiopian Jews. What other nation has such diversity in its Parliament with parties not only representing the entire panoply of issues, faiths and creeds, but also some whose sole purpose is the elimination of the very state in whose legislature they sit. And what other nation, faced with its own domestic needs stretched to capacity, sends so many military and medical teams in strength to help any country facing natural disaster as Israel has done again and again even sending specialized NGO teams here to Canada to help in the Fort McMurray emergency.
If you believe anti-semitism is on the rise, show up! If you believe the UN treats Israel unfairly, show up! If Israel ever helped your country of origin – show up! If you are for gay rights and women’s rights – as Israel is like no other country in the middle East – show up! If people’s lives matter more than hate and prejudice – show up!
So come and celebrate tomorrow. Come and march together as one. March together with bold resolve and confidence in the future, and celebrate the small nation that could. For Israel, as its national anthem’s title, gives us all The Hope - HaTikvah - that no matter what challenges we face in our lives, we all can and shall overcome.