Rabbi Mirvis, Michael Gove, Julie Burchill and more: What Israel means to me

A host of luminaries from the Jewish community and beyond tell the JC how they feel about Israel as the country celebrates its 70th birthday


Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

Israel has been rejected by so many. Yet, as we celebrate 70 glorious years since the establishment of the State, we are mindful of the verse in the Hallel, Psalm 118, which declares, “Even ma’asu Habonim, haita le rosh pina “The stone that has been rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.”

Though some of the builders of our global society have rejected her, Israel has become a veritable cornerstone of life on this planet. She is a remarkable resource of spirituality, has made immense contributions to the fields of science, medicine, agriculture, information technology, and many others.

As we reflect on all the blessings that the Almighty has brought to the State of Israel throughout the past 70 years, we pray that well into the future, Israel will be blessed with peace, security, happiness and success in all of her endeavours.


Ephraim Mirvis is Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth


Michael Gove

To me, Israel is an inspiration. It shows that the human spirit can achieve amazing things against incredible odds. The Jewish people after millennia of persecution built a home while surrounded by enemies and made that home a beacon of liberty.

Israel’s vibrant democracy, respect for individual freedom and restlessly innovative culture make it an example to others.

Every time I visit I’m amazed at what Israel has achieved and ashamed that so many respond to its achievements by indulging in the oldest hatred. The best response to that prejudice is to celebrate an amazing country which has endured so much and which at 70 shows the rest of us the power of hope


Michael Gove is Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs


Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner

I’ve been in love with her for as long as I can remember. I love her contours, her sounds and her smells. Her language is the heart-language that superseded my mother tongue.

Her language is the language of my prayers, of my strongest songs and my true soul. I lived with her for many joyful years and now I am away from her in another land and I yearn for her. She exasperates and totally infuriates me and I am often enraged by the way she can conduct herself when she really should know better from our history. She’s a refuge and an inspiration.

She can hurt others and through this, herself and me. I hold her responsible for her actions. I travel to be with her as often as I can and each time I leave her, I feel the distance between us as a physical loss. I simply adore her warts and all.


Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner is the Senior Rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism


Jonathan Freedland

There’s the idea of Israel and then there’s the reality. The reality can be maddening (and worse), thanks largely to an occupation that is as old as I am. It’s helped shape a society that is too often marked by militarism and casual aggression, surging nationalism and unvarnished racism. All of those things can make me despair of the land where my mother was born.

And yet the idea of Israel one I received from her, from my father, from my upbringing in the kibbutz-centred youth movement Habonim-Dror and from my reading of Jewish history that remains an idea I cannot shake. The idea of a country we Jews can call our own; where we might not merely survive, but thrive; a safe haven in which we might not just live but flourish that idea still moves me. That idea of Israel I defend even now, despite everything.


Jonathan Freedland is a columnist for the JC and The Guardian.


Jonathan Arkush

The rebirth of Israel is the greatest story of national liberation ever told. The restoration to the Jewish people of their self-determination in their ancient land is miraculous in every sense and is without parallel in history. Every day I spend in Israel I am reminded of the majestic vision of the Torah and our prophets, that the Jewish people will return there from every corner of the globe.

It inspires me that from millennia of marginalisation and hate, culminating in the ashes of the Shoah, the Jewish nation is renewed and reinvigorated. The Israel that speaks to me is at the same time ancient and modern, traditional and cutting-edge, remembering its past while envisioning its future, restrained when military force is necessary while strong in defence against its surrounding enemies.

Tensions are always there, but they are inherent in life and they are our people’s tensions to resolve, as independent of the involvement of others as possible because we are no longer completely at the mercy of the outside world. I watch my Israeli, Hebrew-speaking grandchildren growing up and I am filled with hope for their well-being and security. Jews have always prayed for peace, both nationally and personally and I am confident that with a strong and secure Israel, our hopes and prayers are closer to being fulfilled.


Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies.


Colin Shindler

For me, Israel is at the forefront of Jewish history. The state is the inheritor of the French revolutionary tradition and nineteenth century European liberal nationalism.

As someone who was embedded in the political causes of the 1960s, the Six Day war in 1967 was a watershed. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 propelled me to work for the emigration of Soviet Jewry. I understood that it was what the Jews did themselves that counted. Auto-emancipation, not emancipation by others.

Even if Israel today is a flawed democracy, its leaders lacking a moral compass amidst multiple charges of corruption, it remains the central answer to the millennial Jewish problem. All other ideologies, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have failed. After all, there was no mass workers’ uprising on behalf of the Jews, when Hitler invaded.

The task of diaspora Zionists is rightly to stand up for Israel, but also to help transform Israel into Zion.


Colin Shindler was the first professor of Israel Studies in the UK.


Julie Burchill

I’ve been a philo-Semite since I was a teenager (you can read about in it my memoir, Unchosen) but I didn’t go to Israel until I was in my 40s. To say it lived up to my expectations is an understatement the people, culture and climate have basically ruined me for every other country. Especially the people no country ever boasted such a rainbow of beauty. Not for nothing did my gay mate Chas refer to his first trip there just short of a week as The Six-Day Phwoar.

But of course Israel’s achievement goes far beyond the physical and the fiscal in proportion to its population, it has the largest number of startup companies in the world. It is a beacon of enlightened light in a frankly wretched region which has a real problem with such outrageous concepts as equal rights for women and homosexuals. I believe that Islamofascism is the biggest threat to progress and pleasure since the Nazis stalked the earth and Israel fights it on the frontline for all of us. And regrettably, as antisemitism “fresh’n’funky antisemitism” as I once called the new Left-wing, right-on brand rises in Europe, Israel will be needed more than ever by the diaspora.

In fact, there’s only one thing wrong with Israel it’s not big enough. Never mind next year in Samaria.


Julie Burchill is an author and journalist


Hannah Weisfeld

Growing up, Israel was always central to my Jewish identity a source of culture, history and heritage. Rarely did a Friday night dinner take place in the Weisfeld household without Israel being a topic of conversation. It is the place I had some of my most formative experiences as a young person.

There is much to celebrate in Israel’s accomplishments. Yet when I look to the future I worry. Israel won’t be able to survive as a Jewish and democratic state without a resolution to the conflict and it means my daughter, who was born the same month of the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, will not be able to have the relationship with Israel that I had as a young person.

As it celebrates its 70th birthday, I hope this will be the year that real strides are made towards resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict


Hannah Weisfeld is director of Yachad, which works to mobilise British Jews in support of a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict


Josh Holt

“Israel is my people’s homeland. Imperfect but necessary, and a part of my community’s daily life. It is the realisation of an ideal and is a melting pot of culture, religious practice, and intellectual though. It is a place I love, that brings me great pride and also great anguish. Israel is a place I can see both good and bad in, but above all it is something worthwhile, worth fighting for, and worth using my voice actively to engage with and to help shape its future.


Josh Holt is the president of the Union of Jewish Students.


Ella Sharron

Thankfully I have such Zionist parents that I knew Israel was never just a holiday destination, but rather a future homeland. Aged 16, after completing my GCSEs at Immanuel College in Bushey, Hertfordshire, I made the choice to make aliyah alone. Just a few short weeks later, I was on a plane to my dream home.

Israel is knowing I’ll always be safe being a Jew, in a land of our own. It’s a country that its citizens love and fight for, serving in the army to protect the land that provided so much for them. Granted service is mandatory, but from the amount of Israeli citizen volunteers the army has, it’s a clear choice that these people want to give back

Israel is a place I know I want to raise a family, secure that they will have the advantage of growing up surrounded by their own history. Living and and breathing the culture. Proud to know that they themselves are Israelis.

Israel, like all countries, has its flaws, but to me it’s perfect.


Ella Sharron is 20, and serving in the IDF.


Jennifer Jankel

Israel for me is a land of beautiful family memories.

In my early married life I discovered kibbutz life through the eyes of my late husband Robert’s beloved family who were founder members of Kibbutz Ma’ayan Tzvi. They told me stories that stretched my imagination, about the murder of close Jankel relatives as with so many survivor families. One cousin, Shulamit Kugelman, became a mitzvah heroine in my life. I treasure those visits her wisdom, her tough approach to life. It is a joy to continue to love and care for her family down the next three generations l’dor va dor.

And then there is the music of Israel, so beautiful, so varied, reflecting so many strands of identity, that I’d need hundreds of words to sum it up!


Jennifer Jankel chairs the Jewish Music Institute

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