This week you celebrated another year around the sun. You are 76 years young, and I am writing to wish you Mazal Tov. On the occasion of your 76th year of independence, I want to begin by telling you that I love you. I love you with all my heart and soul and yearn for the day I can “return to Zion.”

I am writing to you at a moment when you are at war on two fronts – both enemies backed by a venomous adversary hellbent on your destruction. This war has deeply affected hundreds of thousands of your citizens and your economy, creating a destabilizing and uncertain feeling.

I write to you on this momentous occasion when many are struggling to celebrate. Celebrating is hard when 132 of our people are נתונים בשביה ובצרה,(held in the straits of captivity)[1] and when so many thousands of our global Jewish people are mourning and traumatized. Since your last birthday, you experienced the greatest trauma in your 76 years. It is a trauma that shattered your self-image and reminded you that you are more vulnerable than you had previously thought. Through this war friendships and alliances have been tested and re-examined.

I write to you with the deepest worry and concern as your elected politicians have stooped to new and dangerous lows. Your government has begun to unravel as the defense establishment is at increasing odds with your Prime Minister who appears to be more and more out of touch with the reality on the ground.

I write to you as you have been at the center of protests around the world by people who regard you as the source of evil. The placards, slogans, and chants coming from campuses, cafes, and capitals around the world are hurtful and largely false, but nevertheless, they make an impression.

And I write to you at a moment in which the rift between you and your greatest ally and friend is growing. Without a crystal ball, this could very well be a do-or-die moment for the Jewish State. Your leadership must take heed and evaluate the long-term ramifications of today’s decisions.

As a Jew, I am grateful for who you are and for what you have become. In your short 76 years, you have accomplished more than most countries do in their lifetimes, and you have done so against unbelievable odds. You have made the desert bloom, grown to be an advanced industrial democracy, revived our ancient language, and created vast and far-reaching cultural contributions to the Jewish people and the rest of the world. Your rich ethnic diversity is a testament to your open arms. Your streets, cities, and towns reflect the mixed multitude of the Jewish people. You boast the largest Jewish community on the planet and you continue to grow.

I love your resilience and never-give-up spirit. It is infectious and inspiring to those far beyond your borders. Your people have learned to take care of one another even when your government does not. Despite the collapse of socialism from your foundation, you make space for everyone to contribute, each according to his/ her/their ability, and to benefit, each according to need. I love that you are like a “Sabra” fruit, prickly on the outside and sweet within.

I love that you are a State of Jews and that you are also a deeply Jewish State. I love that the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people[2] continues to grow in the public square. I love that I can argue with one of your taxi drivers and at the end of the ride be invited for Shabbat dinner. I love that biblical stories and verses adorn your streets, shops, and stores and that they make up the fabric of everyday life. This inspires no lack of argument, disagreement, or competing approaches to Jewish life, but at the end of the day, we know that these are disagreements for the sake of Heaven[3]. Your people carry a certain passion, joie de vivre, and determination to live their lives.

I love that Judaism everywhere in the world would be unrecognizable if it were not for the contributions that come from you.

I love that sometimes you care what the world thinks of you and sometimes you do not. Everything you have created has been ‘sown in tears and reaped in joy,’[4] as you sadly extend a tremendous number of resources, time, and energy to remembering, to remembering your past, your roots, and the many people who gave their lives so you could be free.

I love you despite the anguish that I sometimes feel when I am at odds with your government’s decisions, and when I feel that the Judaism that I live and practice is at odds with the prevailing Israeli notion of what it means to be Jewish, and that the laws and rulings are slow to change.

I love that you attempt to be both exceptional and normal, that you strive to be both the solution to the Jewish question/problem, and at the same time that you are the laboratory in which we experiment, invent, create, produce, and imagine solutions to our problems, often creating more questions than answers.

I love that you want to be accepted by your neighbors and to live with them in peace, and have been able to do so on several occasions.

I love your ubiquitous positivity and “y’hiyeh b’seder” (“everything will be ok”) mentality that has led to so much creativity because necessity is the mother of invention.

I love you because you are the manifestation of the greatest collective project in Jewish history – even greater than the Temple in Jerusalem. In 76 years, you, Israel, have succeeded in gathering the exiles. You have produced more Jewish and Hebrew literature than in the past 2000 years, created more opportunities for Jewish expression, culture, and religiosity than ever before. That is truly a miracle.

As you begin the 4th quarter of the first century of your existence, my wishes for you this year before your next birthday are the following:

  • You, along with your allies and friends, do everything in your power to end this war, safely bring home ALL of the hostages, and provide safety and security for your people and for all those living under your sovereignty.
  • You bring a resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians through a Two-State reality.
  • You continue expanding your acceptance, normalization, and outreach to other countries in the region, achieving a pact with the Saudis. This cannot, of course, come without a resolution to the plight of the Palestinian people.
  • You realize that bringing in extremists to the government helps no one (but the extremists).
  • You create and enhance a sense of shared society inside of Israel -acknowledging the 21% of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
  • You go from victim to victor, without becoming a villain.
  • You fulfill all of your aspirations set out in the Megilat HaAtzmaut.

May it be Your will that by next Yom HaAtzmaut, there “be calmness within your ramparts, and peace in your citadels.”[5]

Happy Birthday.