When the state of Israel was reborn in 1948, there were slightly more than one million Jews in Palestine. Today that number has grown to over six million. Despite terror attacks, loss of life, and wavering world opinion, Israeli society has become more interconnected. Critics consider it to have been a necessity in the first years of the reborn state but now assert that there is no longer a need for it. Others, mainly Mizrahi Jews (descended from local communities of the Middle East, as opposed to those from Europe), along with Holocaust survivors, have criticized the earlier move to unify the country.
According to them, they were forced to conceal their diaspora heritage and philosophies brought from other countries, and adopt a new Sabra culture. The word Sabra originally described the new Jew that had emerged in Palestine, particularly when contrasted with the old Jew from overseas. Israel’s culture—literature, arts, music, dance, theater, and media—is fertile, alive, and energetic. It is comprised of a plethora of inspiration, from the rich culture of czarist Russia to the halls of academia, from the influences of craftsmen, bankers, writers, and artists, to the busy streets housing jewelers in Amsterdam.
It grew stronger through the struggles of wars, pogroms, and the staggering anti-Semitism that seemed to plague Jews in every country where they settled. While Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of the State, an incredible 83 tongues are spoken in the country. As new immigrants began to arrive, teaching Hebrew became a national goal. Special schools for the teaching of Hebrew were set up all over the country. The initial works of Hebrew literature in Israel were written by authors rooted in the world and traditions of European Jewry.
Israel is home to several world-class classical music ensembles, such as the Israel Philharmonic and the New Israeli Opera. The founding of the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra (today’s Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) in 1936 marked the beginning of Israel’s classical music scene. In the early 1980s, the New Israeli Opera began staging productions, reviving public enthusiasm for operatic works. Russian immigration in the 1990s boosted the classical music genre with new talents and music lovers. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performs at venues throughout the country and abroad, and almost every city has its own orchestra, many of the musicians having emigrated from the former Soviet Union.
Famous companies and choreographers from all over the world have come to Israel to perform and give master classes. Israel has the highest number of museums per capita in the world, with over 200 museums attracting millions of visitors annually. Jerusalem’s Israel Museum has a special pavilion showcasing the Dead Sea Scrolls and a large collection of Jewish religious art, Israeli art, sculptures, and Old Masters paintings. Yad Vashem, the nation of Israel’s memorial to Holocaust victims, is one of the most-visited sites in the country. The holy halls preserve and cherish memories of those who perished in ovens fired by hatred and disclose the lessons learned for future generations.
The past is not forgotten in Israel, but the promise of the future is bright. The promises of God for what is yet to come are just as certain as those which have already been fulfilled. Israel lives. And despite the challenges and threats facing the Jewish state, this 70th birthday will not be Israel’s last!