My class at Ulpan MILAH, an intensive Hebrew language school, meets directly beneath the synagogue at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem. From time to time we hear the sounds of prayer echoing down the set of stairs that connects the back of the synagogue to our classroom. One day last week, the singing was particularly heartfelt and strong.
On the fifth of the Hebrew month of Iyar, 5708 (May 14, 1948), the leaders of the newly established State of Israel signed a Declaration of Independence. In it, among other things, they stated:
We appeal… to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the up-building of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.
Almost 70 years later, the State of Israel still struggles to balance its Jewish and democratic character – to remain committed to its Jewish values while at the same time remembering that those values obligate it to treat those who are not Jewish as equals.