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Voices of Faith: Memories of 1948

In celebration of Israel’s 75th anniversary, Jewish Action released “Voices of Faith: Memories of 1948,” a short film series featuring the inspiring accounts of Rabbanit Miriam Hauer, Rabbanit Puah Shteiner and Rabbi Berel Wein. In the personal accounts that follow, we present their compelling recollections of the founding of the Jewish State. Based upon hours of interviews, these firsthand testimonies capture the miraculous events of 1948 from a uniquely religious perspective.

Watch the interviews below each account to see their powerful stories come to life. 


Living with Miracles: Recollections of Tel Aviv during Israel’s War of Independence

Rabbanit Miriam Hauer
Interview by Toby Klein Greenwald  

I was born in a town called Beregszasz in Czechoslovakia, which then became part of Hungary. Now it is part of Ukraine. In 1943, in the middle of World War II, my parents, brother and sister and I fled to Eretz Yisrael. I was ten years old. 

It was more than just difficult for our family to make aliyah—it was impossible. But baruch Hashem, the impossible was achieved. My father was a member of Mizrachi and was very active in it in Budapest. His parents had made aliyah some ten years before we did, but even though my father was an only child, my parents remained in Hungary because my mother didn’t want to leave her family. My grandfather had been an important representative of a famous leather factory in the Hungarian city of Pecs. He and his partner opened a second store in another neighborhood and my father ran it.  

Even with the war waging, my parents didn’t really talk about leaving Budapest. But once the Hungarians started drafting men in my father’s age group into forced labor, what they called munkatabor, my mother realized that she could no longer delay the departure.  

When my grandparents saw what was happening in Europe, they worked hard to get my father an immigration certificate1 and a Turkish visa. My father got a passport to travel to Turkey under the pretense that he was doing business there. Since he was weak, he “had” to be accompanied by his wife, and since they had small children, they had to take us. We took a train through Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece, all of which were under German occupation. 

A permit to enter Palestine, issued during the British Mandate for a Polish immigrant. Courtesy of the Israel Government Press Office/Hans Pinn

We finally arrived in Turkey, which was neutral. A few days later, we traveled through Aleppo and Lebanon to Haifa, where my father was arrested because the British didn’t understand how he had managed to travel through enemy countries. My father spent the first Shabbat in jail, but my cousin, who had connections, arranged for him to be released after Shabbat, and we then went to Tel Aviv where my grandparents lived.  

Initially, my parents and brother stayed in a hotel, while my sister and I stayed with my grandparents. Their neighborhood was largely comprised of a mix of well-to-do people, some born in Eretz Yisrael, others from Poland, Hungary and Yemen.  

I began school immediately. I spoke Hungarian and German, not Ivrit. At school I made good friends and loved to learn. We had excellent teachers, mostly Orthodox German Jews, who valued Torah and derech eretz. The majority of them had had a thorough Torah education as well as a solid university education.   

Before the State was declared, many of my school peers were already involved either in the Haganah or in pre-Haganah, Gedudei Noar. In school, there was one day a week when we practiced Krav Makel and Krav Panim el Panim, Kapap, which means face-to-face combat [a martial art form developed by the Haganah fighters]. We had lessons on how to employ Kapap if somebody attacked us. We were taken to a location outside Tel Aviv, and we learned to climb a hill with the aid of a rope. I was miserable at this training exercise, but we had to learn how to defend ourselves. 

Only a miracle can explain the fact that seven countries, armed to the teeth, tried to annihilate us Jews, who had no weapons to speak of, and they capitulated.”  

On November 29, 1947, when the United Nations adopted the resolution that would divide Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, the trouble started.2 Our beautiful apartment was in a tall building surrounded by trees. Our windows faced the sea and Yafo, and Arabs  would fire from mosques in Yafo toward Tel Aviv. We would collect twenty to thirty bullets, mainly at night, that came through my bedroom window. I couldn’t sleep in my bed; I had to sleep in the bathtub because it was metal and couldn’t be breached by bullets. In addition, unfortunately, the company that supplied electricity to the whole city was nearby, and when the attacks began, that was the first site to be targeted.  

Between November 29, 1947, and May 14, 1948, when Israel declared its independence, the Arabs took up arms and made life miserable for everyone, especially those living in the southern part of Tel Aviv. Many of them fled to Tel Aviv proper. One large family found shelter in the entrance hall of our building. I remember my mother cooking pots of potatoes and sending them down to feed the people seeking shelter there. It wasn’t easy.  

Once the Declaration was made, things turned much worse.  

It was a Friday afternoon when we heard that people were congregating at the Tel Aviv Museum on Sderot Rothschild, a block away from our apartment. We learned that Ben-Gurion had arrived to declare independence. [Though the location of the ceremony was supposed to be a secret, crowds started gathering outside the building.] My father said to us, “Children, we are running down to Rothschild! Something very important is about to happen!”  

Top: Rabbanit Miriam Hauer as a young woman. Courtesy of Rabbanit Hauer  
Behind: Magen Dovid Adom Square in the center of Tel Aviv, circa 1947. Courtesy of the Israel Government Press Office/Hans Pinn

We stood in front of the museum that Friday and heard the Declaration. The exhilaration we felt is indescribable. It was a tremendous, albeit very dangerous, step, but we were ready. We knew that as soon as independence was declared, seven nations would attack us. What would happen? We were 600,000 Jews. No airplanes. No tanks. Not even an army. Just some hidden weapons. And three groups who were ready to fight. 

We returned home, very excited to welcome Shabbat as citizens of Medinat Yisrael! In the batei knesset we recited Hallel and the Tefillah L’shlom HaMedinah. 

Immediately, Egypt began bombing us. Over time, shelters, which weren’t very effective, were added, but initially we had no shelters—only some walls made of bricks at every house entrance. 

But life had to go on. Schools remained open. I remember walking to school and knowing that every time we heard a boom, an enemy plane was flying overhead since Israel didn’t have an air force at the time. When we heard a boom, we would lie down in the street so the pilot couldn’t target us. Attending school was an adventure. Once, the house across the street from the school was hit and all we could do was hide under our desks.  

Slowly, Israel amassed an army. Hashem was on our side, as always. The armies of seven nations that attacked us did not accomplish their goal, and we have been growing stronger and stronger ever since, baruch Hashem. 

During the early years of the State, Israel began to absorb Jews—Holocaust survivors fleeing Europe, as well as Jews who were persecuted in Arab countries. It wasn’t easy to absorb so many thousands of people, but we did. [In Israel’s first few years of existence, it absorbed more than one million Jews.] My family took in both relatives and close acquaintances. Many times, we children slept on the carpets and gave our beds to olim chadashim. We did our best to make them feel at home.  

That was how our independence began.   

There are phenomena that are beyond nature. Only a miracle can explain the fact that seven countries, armed to the teeth, tried to annihilate us Jews, who had no weapons to speak of, and they capitulated. 

I feel that we are living miracles. Halevai, if only everybody would have the awareness not to ruin what was built with such miracles, devotion, enthusiasm and love. We should never forget the blood of the precious Jews who sacrificed their lives so Am Yisrael could have a home—a home that was given to us by Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Oy lanu, woe unto us, if we do not do our best to preserve it and to build it.  


1. With the publication of the 1939 White Paper, Jewish immigration was restricted to only 10,000 immigrants per year (the quota was later increased to 1,500 per month). The British government allocated immigration certificates according to the quota, which resulted in thousands attempting to arrive illegally, without certificates, to escape Nazi Europe.

2. On November 29, 1947, the Jewish State was born. On that day, the UN General Assembly voted on Resolution 181 (also known as the Partition Plan), adopting a plan to partition the British Mandate into two states, one Jewish, one Arab, in May 1948 when the British Mandate was scheduled to end.

Rabbanit Miriam Hauer, a lifelong teacher of Tanach to people of all ages, lives in Jerusalem. Her son, Rabbi Moshe Hauer, is executive vice president of the Orthodox Union.  

Toby Klein Greenwald, a regular contributor to Jewish Action, is a journalist, playwright, poet, teacher and the artistic director of a number of theater companies. She is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Aard from Atara-the Association for Torah and the Arts. 




A Refugee from the Old City

Rabbanit Puah Shteiner
Interview by Toby Klein Greenwald 

Before the siege of the Old City that preceded the War of Independence, I had a very happy childhood growing up in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. We were a family of five kids, and we lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in the Batei Machseh neighborhood. We had a small kitchen, but there was no electricity and no running water in the houses. An Arab man would draw water from the well in the yard, and we would pay him for a can of water, which he would bring up to our apartment on the third floor.  

My parents were deeply rooted in Judaism and tradition. My father, Rabbi Shlomo Min-Hahar, a”h, was a great talmid chacham; he was a teacher. Friday night was a special experience. My mother lit candles, we dressed in Shabbat clothes, and my older sister and I, the two oldest girls in the family, would go with my father to pray at the Churva synagogue. What a synagogue   . . . I didn’t know where to look first! The dome was painted sky blue, with golden stars. There was beautiful singing, the chandeliers sparkled, the floor was made of marble—it was like a palace. 

We children didn’t play at home, because there was no room. We’d go down to play with friends of all ages in the Ashkenazi neighborhood in which we lived. There was also a Sephardi neighborhood, and some girls came from there to play with us. We played ball, jump rope and hide-and-seek. Those were happy times.  

But British soldiers would harass us Jews; they would search our homes for illegal weapons, and anyone who was connected to the Haganah, Etzel or Lehi was in danger of being captured. Every so often, we would hear someone say, “Oh no, our boys were caught with illegal weapons.” 

Armed British soldiers patrol the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem during the British Mandate in 1938. Courtesy of the Israel Government Press Office/Eric Matson

When I walked to school, or went into the city with my parents, we would go through Jaffa Gate where the police station was located. It was called the Kishle; it had been built by the Turks, but the British turned it into a prison [to imprison Jewish resistance fighters]. I remember looking up at the wall with its barbed wire and shards of glass embedded in it and feeling scared. We really wanted a state to be established and for the British to leave. 

My friends and I would pester the British soldiers and say, “This is not your home. This is not your land. Allow us to bring in new immigrants.” Even we children knew what was happening in Europe. We knew that there were ships of Jewish immigrants from Europe who wanted to go up to the Land of Israel, but the British did not allow it. We wanted them to leave, so we would sing out to them, “Free aliyah, a Jewish State! Boo to the White Paper! Long live the blue-and-white flag! We don’t want you here!” 

The troubles started shortly after the UN resolution on the partition plan. Once the British began preparing to leave, the Arabs intensified their threats to the Jews. The resolution was passed on Saturday night, November 29, 1947. On December 2, my sister, who was eight, and I, who was six, were at school, and we were called into the teachers’ room and told to go to our grandparents’ house after school instead of going home; our grandparents lived in Beit Yisrael, outside the Old City walls. The teachers didn’t explain why. 

On the way there, we heard people saying that the Arabs had held a violent protest and had broken into the commercial center (where Mamilla is now). They looted the shops, injured Jews, and burned down the entire center.  

We remained with our grandparents for four months. It was impossible to call home because there were no telephones in private residences. But at the time, my father was teaching in a school outside the Old City walls. He came to visit us one day and brought us a change of clothes. After Pesach, we were brought home in a convoy that was bringing food and other necessities to the Old City residents, who had been under siege since December. 

The siege lasted five-and-a-half months in total, until the fourth of Iyar, when the British left the Old City. On the fifth of Iyar, the establishment of the State of Israel was declared in Tel Aviv. And on Shabbat, May 15, the sixth of Iyar, the British left the country altogether. 

My parents didn’t hear about the declaration of the State, because Arab gangs had sabotaged the power station that supplied electricity to Jerusalem, and at that time, radio ran on electricity. But there were fighters who heard over their radios that the State had been proclaimed, and they informed us. 

That Shabbat, it was quiet. But on Sunday morning, the Old City was hit by heavy fire, at first from the Arabs in the Arab market. After a few days, the Jordanian Arab Legion, an organized army, arrived and occupied the Old City. There was intense shooting and, since we lived on the third floor and were worried about shelling, my parents took blankets and some food and we went downstairs to our neighbor’s one-bedroom apartment. We all sat on a blanket in the corner. 

The Arab Legion attacking the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem in May of 1948. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

My grandmother came to stay with us too. She would recite sefer Tehillim and we would join her. We were young girls so we played too, but we heard the gunfire. It was deathly frightening because it was so close; the Jewish Quarter was very small. 

We had so few fighters—members of the Haganah, the Irgun, and a few fighters from Lehi. We had 150 fighters protecting the Old City. Our weapons were stashed underground because the British would arrest anyone who carried any kind of ammunition. We knew we were in a rough situation. At the time, there were about 2,000 Jews in the Old City and 32,000 Arabs around us. Seven Arab countries invaded Israel with their armies, tanks and artillery; we relied on help only from Heaven. 

My grandmother encouraged us, and my father kept saying, “This is the suffering before the arrival of Mashiach; now Mashiach will come.” 

We hoped and prayed—but those were a difficult two weeks of daily bombings, shelling and cannons, and hearing that people were injured or killed. Young men and women sacrificed their lives. There are no words to describe it.   

At one point, we heard screams. There were crowds of people outside, but we were afraid to go out and find out what was happening. Then several women barged in. I particularly remember some young women with babies in their arms, hysterical, unable to tell us what happened; they were screaming and crying along with their babies. Other people came in and yelled at us, “What are you sitting around for? There are Arabs out there with knives. Run for your lives!”  

Arab gangs had broken through and destroyed the barrier the British had set up in the streets that connected the Jewish Quarter to the Arab market. A mob of frenzied Arabs in a murderous rage, like the wicked Haman in his time, sought to destroy, kill and annihilate, to massacre the Jews.  

My father was with us then. He led us outside to a quiet corner and said: “Girls, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we must be prepared for any disaster that may come, G-d forbid. I want you to recall well what I’m telling you now. When you grow up, remember that your father wanted you to marry a talmid chacham.” 

That was the most important thing to him. It was his testament to us. We had already been crying, but once our father finished speaking, we cried even harder. 

Suddenly a Haganah fighter came and said, “Quiet! Everyone go home. We managed to push the rioters back to the Arab market.”  

Not a single Jew had been hurt by the mob. G-d had performed a miracle for us.  

Ruins of the Churva synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem destroyed by the Arabs. Courtesy of the Israel Government Press Office/Moshe Milner

But after several days of massive shelling, in which people were killed and injured, the Old City surrendered. At first, on the day the surrender was announced, I was happy. “Now there won’t be any more shooting,” I thought. “We won’t die here, we’ll survive.” But then I went out and saw that people had their heads down. Our Old City had fallen into the hands of the Arabs. We would no longer have access to this holy, precious place. 

I was seven years old when we were expelled from the Old City. We were despondent, and as we evacuated the area, it was extremely frightening. My father wasn’t with us at the time. The surrender agreement with the Jews of the Old City, signed by the commander of the Jordanian Legion, stipulated that the fighters would be taken prisoner. So all the men reported to the square to determine who was a fighter and who wasn’t. I thought my father would come back soon. But they took all 350 men away from the Old City and brought them as prisoners to Transjordan.  

Leaving the walls of the Old City was very traumatic. We were led through Rechov HaYehudim, and all we saw was destruction. We walked across rocks and glass of destroyed homes and stores. Jordanian and Iraqi soldiers were in the few remaining Jewish stores. Next to the market, the Legion soldiers stood guarding us from the Shabaab gang members who were shouting, “Attack them! Attack them!” It was terrifying. (The Legion soldiers protected us because that’s what the surrender agreement stipulated.) We walked between several fires; the Arabs had set fire to much of the Old City. 

It was Friday evening when we reached Mount Zion. Military jeeps were waiting down the mountain. I was told to get into the jeep even though it was Shabbat, because it was pikuach nefesh. I was a little girl, and I felt my heart breaking. It was Shabbat!  

They took us out through the Zion Gate and led us—mothers, grandmothers, elderly people and children—to Katamon, which had been captured during the War of Independence. We moved into the empty houses. 

Ultimately, the War of Independence ended in a great victory for us. But our Old City was in the hands of the Jordanians. We were to be cut off for nineteen years. 

Like my fellow Jews, I was certain the Jewish people would be able to return to the Old City one day . . . I never dreamed that I would merit to see the Kotel again in my lifetime.

For those long years, when we didn’t have access to the Old City, Jews from all corners of the city would go pray every Shabbat at the tomb of King David on Mount Zion, instead of at the Wall. Like my fellow Jews, I was certain the Jewish people would be able to return to the Old City one day. I would think to myself: When is the End of Days? Maybe my great-grandchildren will get to see it. I never dreamed that I would merit to see the Kotel again in my lifetime.  

In 1967, the Six-Day War broke out. It was beyond belief. Hakadosh Baruch Hu…He is the One Who plans all. And He brought us back. 

Returning to the Old City for the first time in nearly two decades, I entered through the Jaffa Gate with my husband. On the way, I sang: “Shir Hama’alot b’shuv Hashem et shiyvat Tzion hayinu k’cholmim—A Song of Ascents; when G-d brings about the return to Zion, we shall be like dreamers.” 

It was simply a dream. We could go inside the walls! We passed by the Kishle prison where the British had imprisoned our boys, and now the Israeli police were there instead of the British. What a miracle! 

Worshippers at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, circa 1910. Courtesy of the Israel Government Press Office/Eric Matson

We continued on past the Zion Gate, and my husband said, “Wait a moment, you need to recite a blessing. ‘Blessed are You L-rd, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has performed a miracle for me in this place.’” I had left through here—it was a miracle that we had made it out alive—and now I had merited to return.  

I started to run. I wanted to see my childhood home. And then I thought to myself, How heroic my mother had been! How did she manage with five young children during such a difficult and terrible time, while my father was imprisoned for nine months?  

Once, I asked her: “Ima, how did you hold on?” 

“Puah,” she said, “you forget that those were great days, historic days. After two thousand years, our country was being founded. It was after the Holocaust. We were ready for anything, any sacrifice.” 

My mother instilled faith in us constantly, as did my father and the teachers in the school we attended. The feeling in the atmosphere around us was that things would turn out alright. We were ready for the State to be established. And we were willing to sacrifice and to do whatever it took. 

Rabbanit Puah Shteiner is the author of Forever My Jerusalem: a personal account of the siege and surrender of Jerusalem’s Old City in 1948 (New York, 1987). 




American Orthodoxy’s Response to the Establishment of the Jewish State

Rabbi Berel Wein
Interview by Toby Klein Greenwald  

During the Second World War, American Jewry, at least the Jews in Chicago where I lived, knew that the situation in Europe was bad, but I don’t think any of us knew how bad it was. The Jewish community back then had no real political power and not much wealth. There was a general malaise. American Orthodox Jews felt there was little they could do. 

On top of that, the religious structure of the American Jewish community was very weak. The younger generation of Jews in America was basically non-observant. The majority of American Jews had inherited their family traditions, but were not Jewishly educated or observant.  

In 1950, Look, a popular magazine in those days, dedicated an issue to the topic of 300 years of Jews in America, 1650-1950. In the article, the author stated that the Conservative movement would become mainstream Judaism—the Orthodox would disappear completely and the Reform would assimilate.  

There were dozens of boys on my block on the West Side of Chicago, all of them Jewish. We all went to public school. I was the only one of the group who was shomer Shabbos. Once I got older, I decided to go to law school even though I had always wanted to be a rabbi; there were no positions in the Orthodox rabbinate.  

Soon after World War II, refugees started to drift in. Some of the refugees, especially the rabbinic refugees, were people of immense strength and vision who said, “We’re going to build [Torah Judaism] all over again. We’re not satisfied with [American Jews saying], ‘This is America and this is how we’re going to do it.’” It was unacceptable to them. These were the teachers I had in Beis HaMidrash LaTorah, the Hebrew Theological College in Chicago. They were all European rabbis and great talmidei chachamim, tremendous people, all of whom had had very difficult lives. 

It was an all-Yiddish-speaking yeshivah. It was not so much that these rabbanim communicated to us the knowledge of Torah as much as the geshmak of Torah—how pleasant, how wonderful Torah is. The message they conveyed to us was how fortunate we were to be able to be in a place where we could study Torah. How fortunate we were that we could perform mitzvos. They never spoke about what  happened to them. They always spoke about what was going to be, and what we were supposed to be, and that it was our task to rebuild the Jewish people. Over time, dozens and dozens of Jewish leaders came from the yeshivah and, in fact, even entire communities in Israel. (The aliyah rate from Chicago was enormous.) 

But what really inspired us was the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. The birth of Israel was so unlikely, so unnatural. The years preceding it were so devastating: the British blockade, the Holocaust, the thousands of refugees, the internal strife. But G-d has His ways—which is basically the story of the Jewish people. 

Front page of the Chicago Daily News reporting the establishment of the State of Israel. Photo: John Frost Newspapers/Alamy Stock Photo

I remember the day the State of Israel was declared; it was on a Friday afternoon. I walked to shul with my father, of blessed memory, who was not an especially outwardly emotional person; he had the stoicism of the Lithuanian Jews. But as we walked to shul, I saw that he was weeping. It made an enormous impression upon me. 

That Sunday night, the Zionist organization in Chicago sponsored a rally on behalf of the State of Israel at Chicago Stadium, where the basketball team played. There were about 20,000 Jews inside the stadium, and another 40,000 to 50,000 Jews in the parking lot. Golda Meir was the guest of honor; she was in America raising funds for purchasing arms on the open market in Europe since the American government wouldn’t sell arms to Israel. 

The program began with the raising of the Israeli flag to the stadium rafters. When that happened, 2,000 years of exile poured out of us. It was a sea of tears. Had I been running the program, I would have said, “That’s it. End it now. Better you’re not going to get!” Indeed, the rest of the program was anticlimactic.  

All my teachers from the yeshivah were in attendance, though none of them were Zionists. That made a tremendous impression upon us.  

When Ben-Gurion came to Chicago to sell Israel bonds in the early 1950s, there was a meeting at a big hotel. We went out of curiosity—we couldn’t afford to buy a bond, but we wanted to see what Ben-Gurion looked like. Our rebbi, who was not a Zionist, was also there. The next day, during the shiur, he asked, “What did you see last night?” He would always ask certain kinds of questions to give us a different perspective. “I saw 500 people and somebody speaking” wasn’t the answer he was looking for. 

“What I saw was that the children of Abraham stood in line to give away money,” he said. “That’s what I saw.” That was the attitude of the time: we must support the Jewish State. The truth is that many Jews felt that Israel wasn’t going to make it. They saw the country’s Communist-Socialist patchwork economy, which has never worked and never will, as doomed to failure. Moreover, Israel was taking in a million refugees and fighting a perpetual war with the Arabs. At the same time, the Soviet Union was saying, “we’re going to destroy you,” and the Western world was apathetic. There were great people, both in the US and in Israel, who said the State wouldn’t last fifteen years. But as I said, G-d has His ways.   

Jerusalemites celebrate the United Nation’s decision on the partition of Palestine riding on top of armored police car. Courtesy of the Israel Government Press Office/Hans Pinn

Concurrent with the creation of the State of Israel, in America there developed a much more learned, successful and influential Orthodox Jewish community than anyone ever imagined. I believe that without the State of Israel, Lakewood wouldn’t exist in America. Satmar wouldn’t exist in America. There’d be neither the OU nor YU. The State of Israel provided an unexpected, miraculous platform upon which the Jewish people could build themselves. So even though politically, and almost as a matter of doctrine, there are sects of Orthodoxy who say they’re opposed to the State of Israel, in reality they are dependent upon it. 

Jewish youth across the board spend a year in Israel post high school. Where do American Jews go for vacation? Where do we go to visit? The lynchpin for the revival of Torah Jewry in the Diaspora is the State of Israel.  

There are electric moments in life. The Six-Day War was one of them. At the time, I was in Miami Beach, where I was the rav of a shul. I was driving and had the radio on, and suddenly a news bulletin announced that the Old City of Jerusalem had fallen into Israeli hands. Then they played Colonel Motta Gur declaring “HaKotel b’yadeinu! Har Habayit b’yadeinu! The Kotel is in our hands! The Har Habayit is in our hands!” and Rabbi Shlomo Goren blowing the shofar. I stopped the car, and got out in the middle of the street, and so did everyone else because Miami Beach was 99 percent Jewish. Complete strangers got out of their cars and hugged each other.   

Today, when I reflect upon Israel, I think of the following story: When my oldest grandson was turning three, I wanted to buy him a toy that was educational and innovative and would last for years. After quite a bit of research, I purchased the toy and presented it to him. He spent the next hour playing with the box. 

That’s us. We are playing with the box. We don’t appreciate the gift that’s in it. How did Israel end up with seven million Jews? It’s the largest number of Jews ever in the Land of Israel. Look at Yerushalayim today. People complain about the traffic. My father told me that when he was in Palestine in 1925, studying at Mercaz HaRav, there was one traffic light at Rechov Jaffa and King George. How did it happen that a bunch of shoemakers learned to fly an F-16?! 

I remember the day the State of Israel was declared: it was on a Friday afternoon. I walked to shul with my father . . . as we walked . . . I saw that he was weeping. 

Maybe we play with the box because if we played with the toy, it would overwhelm us. So we allow ourselves to be distracted by all the static—nonsense and politics. Meanwhile, the country is being built, and the Jewish world is being rebuilt. Mi milel l’Avraham heinikah banim Sarah?  [Who would have said to Avraham that Sarah would nurse children?] (Bereishis 21: 7) Who would have ever imagined such a thing?  

If you live long enough, you see a lot of things. That’s why the Gemara says, “Im chochmah ein kan, ziknah yeish kan, If there isn’t wisdom, there’s age, i.e., life experience.” I’m fortunate to have witnessed many things no one thought could ever happen.   

In Israel today, everything is on the ascent. I’m optimistic about us. I think the future of the Jewish people lies in the State of Israel. The exile is the tail of the dog, not the head. I think the Orthodox will get stronger, even though we face enormous challenges. Although truthfully it’s hard to predict anything about the Jewish people. If history has taught us anything, it’s taught us that our future is always unpredictable. But I think we’re too far along the way for it not to continue. Therefore, I believe even greater things are in store for us.   

Rabbi Berel Wein, founder and director of the Destiny Foundation, is a renowned author, lecturer and historian.



More in this section:

Medinat Yisrael: Through a Torah LensRabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik; Rabbi Dr. Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog; Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin; Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank; Rabbi Yehuda Amital; Rabbi Yaakov Friedman; Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein

The Birth of the Jewish State: Rabbinic Views and Perspectives compiled and translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Krakowski

The Return to Zion—An Excerpt by Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik

A Bridge of Paper by Charlotte Friedland


This article was featured in the Summer 2023 issue of Jewish Action.
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