Monday was an early celebration for Yom Ha'atzmaut at the UCLA campus! The place was alive with energy of so many students filled with the desire to celebrate Israel and to remember those who have found safety in the state and to remember those who have fallen fighting to keep Israel.
Rabbi Aaron Lerner gave a speech to the passionate crowd, we are grateful to the student who filmed so we might all enjoy. Watch video of his speech below!
"We are brought together today to celebrate our return to the Jewish homeland. It started with Abraham in the Bible, struggling to make a new life where he can worship in freedom. Then famine, slavery and push us out of Israel over the millennia.
And yet, time and again, whether from Egypt, Babylon, North Africa, Iran or Poland or Greece – we return to our roots. In spite of knowing the perils, the long journeys, the loss of our possessions – our DNA compels us to return. For only in Eretz Israel are we fully able to express our Jewish existence. Only in Eretz Israel can we ensure our own protection. Only in Eretz Israel can we realize our true potential.
With modern Zionism, we have found liberation once more. An oppressed and marginalized people, we reclaimed our identity from the ashes of the Holocaust. We revived our ancient language. We joined the small communities of Jews who had maintained a continuous presence in the cities of Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron, and created an autonomous nation.
We found our land decimated by years of war, taxation and neglect. But we revived it. And we thrived. We elected a female Prime Minister in 1969, nearly 48 years before the United States of America even had a potential female nominee for President. We embraced immigrants with different languages, cultures, education, and skin colors. And we never questioned whether gays belong in the military.
Is Israel perfect? No. It never has been and it never will be. Jews are human. Modern Israel has made, and will continue to make, many mistakes. But we can proud of what we’ve accomplished. In less than 100 years, we built an incredible nation on a piece of land smaller than El Salvador or New Jersey. That’s incredible!
Instead of being maligned, Israel should offer hope to other aspiring indigenous peoples. The key to our success was optimism (probably mixed with a few thousand years of desperation for motivation). Optimism allowed Abraham to leave everything. Optimism allowed us to focus on building, never sure if our creation would be stuck by a bomb or taken from us. Optimism compelled teaching our kids to read. And it gave us the courage to stop internal terrorists instead of promoting them.
We invested in hope. We invested in technology. We invested in bettering society. And we thrived.
Israel is not just celebration for Jews. Israel is a celebration for humanity. If Jews can create an optimistic, democratic nation-state which respects and honors the rights of minorities and contributes to the progress of humanity, I know that others can as well.
And so I end with a universal prayer: Dear God – help all nations of this world to live in peace. May those who suffer from today’s dictators and oppressive societies find hope and redemption. As Jews, we take our responsibility to create a more just world seriously. Aid us, as a free people living in the United States and Israel, to offer assistance to the downtrodden and the vulnerable. May we use the power you have granted us responsibility and with humility. In your name, Amen." - Transcript of Aaron Lerner's speech