On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the rebirth of the state of Israel, which takes place on May 8th, this year, I take this opportunity to share with you a few personal reflections.
My earliest memories of the State of Israel are centered around my father, Rabbi Leon Kronish, of blessed memory, who was one of the leading Reform Zionist rabbis from the 1960’s till the mid-1980’s. His activism for Israel– especially in the years after the Six Day War, when I was studying at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts and HUC-JIR in New York—was infectious and inspiring. Over the years, when I have been asked why I made aliyah (with my family in June 1979, almost 29 years ago), I respond by saying that I took my father’s sermons too seriously!
One central memory that I will carry with me for the rest of my life is the day that my wife Amy and I and our two daughters at the time (Sari, now age 32 and Dahlia, now age 30) made aliyah on June 25th, 1979, three weeks after completing my doctorate in Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. It was the culmination of a dream that we had kept alive for 8 years since our year in Israel in 1970-71. This was a time of relative peace for Israel, six years after “the earthquake” of the Yom Kippur War and seven years before the outbreak of the first “intifada” (Palestinian uprising). We were deeply moved—as we still are—by the unique historic opportunity and obligation to live in the Jewish State of Israel, where we would be able to raise our children as full-fledged Jews in the language and culture of the people Israel. Indeed the next major milestone in our family was the birth of our youngest daughter, Ariella (who is now married to Amit), the following year (1980),who is named for the city of Jerusalem where we have made our home for almost 29 years.
During the last 17 years, I have served as the Director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), Israel’s leading interreligious organization, which I founded, with four other people, in 1991. In my capacity as leader of this institution, I have been invited to seminars at the Vatican several times and I was fortunate to be at the signing of the Fundamental Agreement between the State of Israel and the Holy See, at the end of 1993, a few months after the signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn in Washington D.C. In addition, in March of 2000, I was privileged to be deeply involved in the visit of Pope John Paul II to Israel on an historic pilgrimage. As one of the few people in Israel who knew what this was all about, I was interviewed extensively that week in the local and foreign media. I was so moved by the visit of the Pope to Israel during that week that I raised money to make a film about this experience and what led up to it. Making this film called I am Joseph Your Brother with my wife Amy as one of the directors, was one of the greatest educational and cultural experiences of my life. The film has been screened on television throughout North America and in Israel, and we were invited to screen it in Rome as well! In my humble opinion, the week of the visit of Pope John Paul II to Israel in March 2000 was one of the greatest weeks in the history of Israel. In fact, virtually nothing went wrong that week, and the images of this visit are indelibly etched in my heart and mind, as they are in the consciousness of the citizens of Israel and of Jews and Christians all over the world.
A few years later, in March 2002, I hosted 50 rabbis (as one of the programs of the convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in Jerusalem that year) at the ICCI Education Center on Emek Refaim St. in Jerusalem for a panel discussion with a Christian and Muslim Colleague on “The Contribution of Inter-religious Dialogue to Peace-building in Israel and the Middle East,” a subject about which I have spoken and written extensively during the past 17 years. After the session, I joined 3 other rabbis and two of their spouses for lunch at the well-know Café Cafit on Emek Refaim St. During the lunch, a terrorist came in to the café and was noticed by a courageous waiter, who tackled him and took away his explosives, and we were spectacularly saved by this act of bravery (and by the miracle of the non-functioning of the terrorist’s detonator!) and I am, thank God, alive to tell the story. When we went back to thank Shlomi, the waiter, the next morning, we were interviewed by Israel television, and by the end of the day the whole world knew about this incident. A few days later, I offered special blessings of gratitude with my colleagues at Shabbat morning services at Bet Shmuel/Mercaz Shimshon in a very emotional and heart-warming ceremony.
Since that day, 7 years ago I have rebounded from the experience and have tried to be a voice for peaceful coexistence here in Israel. In light of the fact that Israeli society has moved to the right in recent years, I often find that my voice is a lonely one, but I persist nevertheless. In my lectures to visiting groups in Israel and around the world, I am often asked if Israel will ever live in peace, and my answer is “Yes!” It can and it will happen in my lifetime.
We who live in this generation, the generation of the rebirth of the Jewish state in its ancient homeland, the land of Israel, are indeed fortunate and privileged to be part of this historic process. Yet, we are not fully redeemed and the challenges of finding the ways and means to live in peaceful coexistence remain at the top of our agenda, for ourselves and for our children and for future generations.
In this hopeful spirit, may I wish all citizens of Israel –and friends of Israel around the world–a Chag Sameach! A Happy Holiday!
Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish