Nearly 60 years ago, out of the ashes of the Holocaust, thousands of Jews came with not much more than the shirts on their backs to a land recognizable only as a collective and distant memory. There they found other Jews who had been there for several years, working to forge a new destiny for a people long beleaguered by suffering and hardship that culminated in the mass slaughter of roughly 30 percent of our entire population.
On May 14, 1948 (Iyar 5 on the Jewish calendar), after a journey begun nearly 1,900 years before, the Jews managed to find their way home. It had indeed been a long journey, one that involved an ancient and holy promise of a return to Eretz Yisrael, our ancient homeland.
For the first time in nearly two millennia, Jews had something we had lacked during the whole of the Diaspora -- hope. Hope for a better life for us and for our children, and hope for survival of our faith and of our people, something that seemed impossible just a few years before.
Throughout our history, the world has not let us rest, and this certainly did not change upon the founding of the modern State of Israel. From the moment it was established, Israelis have been forced perpetually to defend the Jewish state from a multitude of adversaries, whether conventional armies, terrorist groups or a culture of incitement and hatred that spans the globe. These threats against Israel, much like the threats against the Jewish people throughout the centuries, have come about not because of anything we have done but because of who we are and what we represent.
Israel is a microcosm of the Jewish existence. On one hand, our nation is a model of freedom, tolerance, democracy and the rule of law in an otherwise enslaved, intolerant, totalitarian and lawless region of the globe. Given a chance, this could serve as a model for the rest of the Middle East.
On the other hand, we still have many challenges to overcome. For the last three and a half years, Israel has been the target of a relentless campaign of terror and murder. Simple day-to-day activities -- a bus ride, a trip to the supermarket, a night out at a cafe -- have become cause for great anxiety among Israelis.
Nearly 1,000 innocent civilians have been tragically murdered, causing great pain throughout the nation. Anti-Semitism, masked as anti-Zionism, has become legitimate in many circles in Europe and even here in the United States -- not to mention the Arab and Muslim worlds. On top of all that, we have witnessed an international propaganda campaign designed to undermine our legitimacy.
Israel is a democracy and a strong one at that. But we are also a democracy facing terrible dilemmas, trying to walk the thin line between defending our citizens on the one hand and defending morality and the rule of law on the other.
It is a difficult task. But just like we have done throughout our history, we shall emerge from these challenges wiser, stronger and with a better sense of ourselves and of our role in the world.
This year on Yom HaAtzmaut, we are celebrating not just our independence. We celebrate our survival, our prosperity and our accomplishments in the face of extraordinary adversity.
Despite the efforts to destroy us, we have not only survived but have transcended our own expectations. Despite living in a virtual war zone, Israel has managed to maintain its democracy.
We maintained and even enhanced civil rights for all, including more than 1 million Israeli Arabs. We have become a global leader in engineering, computer science, agriculture, medicine and biotechnology. And, most importantly, we have strengthened our resolve to one day achieve a just and lasting peace with those who would destroy us.
It is on this day that we reflect on the uniqueness of Israel. For centuries, the Jewish people had no territory, no land to call our own. We had only a book, a faith and a collective history.
Since then, as always, we Jews are still striving to find a sense of normalcy in an abnormal place. But through it all, we have not forgotten, nor will we forget, that our destiny as a people is to make the world more human.
This is the hope that fuels our identity and our pride in the State of Israel. It is a hope that is built upon the collective memory of nearly 2,000 years. It is our hope to live in freedom in our land -- the land of hope, the land of peace the land of Zion and Jerusalem.