Reflections on 70

There are many associations for the number 70 in Jewish tradition: Genesis states that there were 70 descendants of Noah who made up the nations of the world. Seventy descendants of Jacob went to Egypt to begin the exile. Moses assembled 70 elders in the desert on God’s command. There were 70 men in the Great Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of Ancient Israel. Jerusalem is said to have 70 names in the Bible and in post-Biblical literature. In Psalms three score and 10 (70) years are allotted for life, and the Mishnah attributes strength to the age of 70, as one who survives that age is described by the verse as “the strong.” King David lived for 70 years and the exile to Babylonia lasted for 70 years. A classic rabbinic expression, shiv‘im panim laTorah, refers to “70 faces to the Torah.” I have even heard that there are 70 words in the Kiddush, but I have not counted.

This year the number 70 gets the association to the seven decades since the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948.

Since 1948, the population has increased tenfold. Immigration from Europe, Africa, Asia and more has turned the country into a multicultural society with diverse people and traditions, creating a new country and a vibrant (albeit, at times, challenging) democracy. Small towns have become developed cities; dirt roads have become highways. TV channels and radio stations have grown from but a few to dozens of options. Wonder Woman is an Israeli, and Israeli television shows and themes are becoming one of the most important new exports.

Over the years, Israel’s economy has developed from a small, closed economy to a large, developed economy that uses modern methods and advanced technologies for manufacturing. Manufacturing in Israel has evolved from small establishments that engaged primarily in processing agricultural products or clothing to high tech production.

And I could go on.

There will be lots of opportunities to support Israel @70 in the Lehigh Valley. Check out the pages of this issue of HAKOL and the dedicated Israel @70 webpage, www.jewishlehighvalley.org/israelat70.

I do want to call your attention to the local screening of “In Search of Israeli Cuisine” on April 18. The film is a portrait of the Israeli people told through food. The feature-length documentary puts a face on the culture of Israel, profiling chefs, home cooks, vintners, and cheese-makers drawn from the more than 100 cultures that make up Israel today – Jewish, Arab, Muslim, Christian, Druze. The evening will include a tasting of Israeli delicacies. Contact the Jewish Federation to make reservations.

The next day the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration continues at Allentown City Hall at noon for the raising of the Israeli flag and the presentation of proclamations from the mayors of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton. Later in the afternoon and evening the celebration moves back to the JCC for special children, family and adult activities, including an Israeli shuk of shopping and food.

And plan to join us in Israel, departing on Dec. 2, for a journey of discovery in Israel. This unique experience will include special track programming of interest to both first-timers and those who have previously visited Israel.
I have been a bit uncomfortable about the upcoming Israel at 70, or the previous iterations. Birthdays are celebrated on a single day. One of my children once asked why we celebrated their birthday on a single day when they will be that age for the entire year! But Israel is a modern miracle and its accomplishments are nothing short of miraculous. Celebrating its existence deserves more than a single birthday celebration each year. So we will celebrate Israel’s 70th year for much longer than a single day. Programs and events have already occurred. Recently, for instance, Congregation Keneseth Israel and Temple Beth El collaborated on their scholar in residence program exploring complex issues of Israel-Diaspora relations. And many more programs are being planned.

Let’s all find ways to celebrate Israel @70 throughout the year. 

Of the many references to 70 in Jewish tradition, I can’t help but wonder if the phrase from the Mishnah about the “strength” of one who survives the age of 70 can also relate to Israel and our relationship with Israel. At 70, Israel is a remarkable country. To be sure, she is not perfect; just read any number of Israeli newspapers each trying to serve as her guiding conscience to the meaning of a Jewish state.

As Israel turns 70, may she grow and mature from strength to strength. And may we find the strength in our minds and hearts to support and celebrate Israel on her birthday, and every day.