Yom Ha’atzmaut- 2010, Ambassador Michael B. Oren
One freezing dawn during Israel’s War of Independence, fifty youths in their late teens and early twenties, bearing pickaxes and shovels, climbed a rocky hill in the Galilee, barely a mile from the Lebanese border. They were about to establish a kibbutz, one of the communal settlements fostered by the Zionist movement to reclaim and cultivate the hardscrabble Israeli countryside. Similar scenes were being enacted throughout the newly created state—in the Negev, on the Sharon Plain, and in the Jerusalem Hills.
But this one was different: These fifty young people were all Americans. They came from across the United States—from Los-Angeles, Brooklyn, and Chicago. More than a few were hardened combat veterans of World War II. Many had sacrificed a comfortable college experience for sunup to sundown agricultural work and long nights of guard duty.
They came because they believed. They believed in the ideals and values they had learned as Americans and that had instilled in them a sense of responsibility for Jewish freedom everywhere. “The world in which we played hopscotch and baseball and grew to maturity was dominated by Franklin Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler,” one of the youths wrote, “The one represented Protection and Welfare… and the other… a horror… in which every Jew was a potential blood offering.”
They came, like the American pioneers centuries before, to build a state and secure its frontiers. After training at an agricultural camp in New Jersey, they departed by boat and arrived in Israel to another kibbutz founded by Americans, Ein Hashofet—the Spring of the Judge, named for Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.
Brandeis, who was also the president of the American Zionist Federation, had said that every Jew, in order to be a patriotic American, must be a Zionist. And these fifty young American Jews were, indeed, patriots, the embodiment of the principles that lay at the foundation of the U.S.-Israel alliance.
They climbed the hill and broke ground for the first of a huddle of drafty shack— their new homes. And they called their kibbutz after an ancient Jewish town that had existed on that very site. They called it Sasa. Today, sixty-two years after Sasa’s founding, the kibbutz is a thriving community with a beef herd and fruit orchards.
But Sasa has changed. Along with the agricultural work started by its founders, the kibbutz today produces technical and home care products and is host to one of Israel’s most successful plastics factories. Furthermore, in recent years, Sasa has been working closely with American military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide made-in-Israel armor for U.S. vehicles. That armor which helps protect these vehicles from the hazards of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), has saved untold American lives.
And so, the children and grandchildren of Sasa’s founders uphold their commitment not only to Israel but to Israel’s historic alliance with the United States.
Israel, too, has changed—from a struggling agrarian society to a high tech powerhouse with more start-ups per capita, more patents, and scientific papers, and more Nobel Prizes per capita than any other country in the world. A nation that trails only the United States in the number of companies represented on the NASDAQ exchange.
Yet one aspect of Israel will never change and that is its values: the respect for democracy and the rule of law, the commitment to civic and personal freedom, and the yearning for peace. These are the values that we in Israel share with the people of the United States and that form the core of our unshakeable alliance.
We share the vision of a secure and recognized Jewish state of Israel living side by side with a stable and non-violent Palestinian state, and the Government of Israel is deeply committed to working with President Obama to realize that vision. Together with the United States, Israel will strive to create a Middle East—indeed, a world—free of the threats of terrorism and its extremist supporters, a world in which Israelis can live and interact peacefully with all peoples.
As one of Sasa’s founders wrote that first freezing day sixty-two years ago, “The kibbutz that we build will be dedicated not only to the renaissance of our own people, but to… the future of mankind, including our Arab neighbors.”