Harrison. I don’t think that there is anyone in this room today that does not understand how much work and effort you put into your preparations for this day. You understood almost from the beginning what this “Bar Mitzvah thing” was all about and with your teachers, especially Dr. Mandell, you put it all together and this morning has been exceptional.
Harrison, while you and your family were preparing for your Bar Mitzvah, we had a special holiday this week. Israel celebrated her 69th year of Independence. That makes Israel about five times older than you are. But you don’t have to go far to find people who remember a world without the State of Israel. In 1948, after suffering incredible losses in WWII of six million Jews the world finally understood that without a homeland, there never would be a country that would accept and defend the Jews of the world. Israel was founded 69 years ago to stand up for the Jewish people and to be a refuge in times of trouble.
In 1976, as the United States celebrated its 200th year of independence, Israel, just 28 years old showed just how seriously it took her role as defender and refuge for the Jewish people. In a lightning strike, thousands of miles away in Africa, Israel rescued Jewish hostages who were being held at an airport in Uganda. Only one Israeli soldier was killed in the raid, all the hostages were saved and Israel put the world on notice that she would protect and defend the Jewish people no matter where in the world they may be. That is one of the reasons that we celebrate Israel on her independence. Jews celebrate because this is a country that cares.
But Israel did not appear suddenly in 1948. Fifty years before Israel became a state, it took the work of one man, a journalist from Austria, to see the picture of what a Jewish state would look like and how it would operate and then he convinced the Jews all over the world to make his vison real. He visited all of the great world leaders in his day to convince them to support the idea of a Jewish State in what was then called Palestine. His name was Theodore Herzl, and he founded a movement called “Zionism”.
Harrison, I will tell you that Herzl took a lot of ridicule and anger about wanting to create a Jewish State. Many people, both Jews and non-Jews thought he was crazy. But Herzl had a slogan, a mantra if you will, that he repeated over and over until people believed him. He would say in Hebrew, “Im Tirzu ain zo aggada” “If you will it, it will not be a dream.” For thousands of years Jews dreamed of returning to our home in Israel, but few ever did anything about it. Herzl was different; he did something about it. He traveled the world giving speeches, interviewing famous and important people, talking about how to set up a government, what the needs of the people would be in a Jewish state. What would its flag look like and what would be the national anthem?
Through Herzl’s force of will, the ideal of a Jewish state began to move from the realm of dream to reality. Although Herzl died very young, he had inspired millions of Jews and hundreds of leaders to continue his fight to create a Jewish state in less than 50 years. When Israel was founded in 1948, it already had a provisional government, an army to defend it, a policy to accept the Jewish refugees from World War II. Through sheer force of will, the desire of one man to end Anti-Semitism around the world, Israel was born as a state.
Harrison, it matters little why you started your Jewish Education and why it has led you to this Bar Mitzvah ceremony. What matters is the force of your will that it took to get the work done that was needed to make this day the success that it is. It did not take you 50 years to prepare for this day. I suppose I could say that it took you 13 years to be ready for your Bar Mitzvah. But it is only in the last six years that you began to understand the time and effort it would take to make this day happen and you needed your parents, your grandparents, your brother and your teachers to make this day happen. You took a dream and today made it a reality.
But Harrison, you are not done. Standing (or sitting) from your vantage point today, I think you realize that today is not about what you have accomplished. You have accomplished a lot. But it is only a beginning We all celebrate today that you now have the tools you will need to build something special with your life. Today marks the accomplishment of one dream but it is only the first step in an even larger dream. What is your dream Harrison? In your speech, you talked about autism. Will you dedicate your life to helping those struggling with the autism spectrum as you have dedicated your resources to autism today? Will you be the doctor that finally understand this problem that makes life so difficult for so many people? Will you be the Lawyer who will speak up in defense of those with autism, protecting their right to live their lives with understanding and support? Will you be the teacher who will give life skills to those who are struggling with their autism? Or maybe Harrison, you will be the philanthropist that raises the dollars to make research into autism possible?
Look, I don’t know what the future may bring. I only know that if you live by Herzl’s motto, if you live your life understanding that you can, through the force of your own will, change dreams to reality, you will not only raise up your life, but will raise up the lives of others who share your dreams. Thirty-seven years from now, when you turn 50, how will you have used your force of will to make dreams a reality? What dreams will live on in the real world because you believed that they were worth the struggle.
Im Tirzhu Ain Zo Aggada – If you will it, it will not just be a dream. Herzl had a dream and through the force of his will, millions of Jewish refugees from WWII found a home in Israel. Jewish hostages found rescuers from their captivity in Entebbe, Uganda. Because Herzl had a dream that he made into the reality of Israel, Jews have been rescued from South Africa, Argentina, Venezuela, Romania, the Soviet Union and France. The reality of Israel has brought new advances in medicine to the world, trained rescuers who travel all over the globe to relieve all people who are suffering from natural or man-made disasters. The reality of Israel makes your cell phone work, makes GPS available for every driver of every car, makes every desert bloom and is a hub of innovation and discovery.
Harrison, that was Herzl’s dream. Now Harrison, what’s your dream? Your parents, your family, your teachers and your community, we all believe in you. We pray that God will give you the strength and will to make all your dreams real.
Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, May 6, 2017.