In mid-September, I received the news. I would finally be going to Israel. A longstanding dream of mine was being realized. I will soon be in the holy land. I am a native of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (having lived here since I was about four years of age). As a student of history, growing up in one of the oldest and most storied states in the United States; I understand the common struggles that led to the founding of the one and only Jewish state, as well as those which led to the founding of the commonwealth. The CAMERA conference, which took place in the historical city of Boston, Massachusetts, helped me to understand even further the myriad connections between Massachusetts and the State of Israel.
If a person was asked to draw similarities between The United States, more specifically the state of Massachusetts, and the Jewish state of Israel, they may find themselves hard pressed. What similarities could a 200-plus year old commonwealth have with a relatively young nation in the Middle East? The answer lies in two stories of escape from persecution against nearly insurmountable odds.
In 1620, the small ship Mayflower departed England for a long voyage to the new world. The vessel was crammed with members of a religious group the Church of England had deemed heretical. The members of the English Separatist Church were leaving, leaving because they feared for their religious freedom and their lives. They were willing to risk everything–their lives, their possessions in the homeland, so that they could start anew in a new locale.
In this “new world”, the immigrants would be free to worship how, what, and when they wanted. They would be free from oppression and persecution. Once they reached the site of what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, they founded a small town. It was a new era for this small and persecuted minority. The group’s settlement would eventually be incorporated into the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the earliest states in the nation founded in the ensuing years, the United States. The United States would eventually be known to embody the values of democracy Americans hold so dear today, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and many other rights considered fundamental to a thriving, functioning society. Another, albeit much younger nation also embodies these democratic values, and the story of its founding is quite similar to that of Massachusetts.
The Jewish people have always in some form or another inhabited what is today known as the state of Israel. The site of the first and second temples within the holy city of Jerusalem are mentioned in many holy texts and writings. When the Jewish people became strangers and the diaspora began to form, the connection with Jerusalem was never lost. All throughout centuries of persecution and heinous violence directed against them, the Jewish communities of Europe, the Arab world, and elsewhere prayed “next year in Jerusalem.” In 1948, the state of Israel came into being, and a dream centuries in the making was realized. The Jewish people were finally free to worship and practice their Judaism as they pleased, without fearing being singled out as they had in Europe and elsewhere.
The stories of Massachusetts and the State of Israel are complicated to say the least. But the citizens of both areas know in their hearts that they inhabit some of the most storied lands in the democratic world. Landmark advances in science, medicine, and technology have always been characteristic of both Massachusetts and Israel. In addition, both were founded by those who risked everything to pick up and start anew. Like in the first Massachusetts winter or the Israeli war of independence, the going was tough at first. But eventually, something beautiful began to take shape, in the forests of Plymouth and in the desert around Jerusalem. Self-determination, both of the pilgrims and the Jewish people, were and are cornerstones to flourishing societies they have brought about.