On May 14 1948, corresponding to 5 Iyyar 5708 the modern State of Israel was established. The new state might have been named Y’hudah, Judah. After all, from the time that the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BCE, Judah had been the sole Jewish polity from the Babylonian conquest in 586 BCE through the Roman invasion in 55 CE.

Names are important. Yisra’el, Israel evokes, both, the transformation of ‘Jacob’ into ‘Israel’ during a night of struggle prior to his reunion with his brother, Esau (Genesis 32:23-32) – and the transformation of the ex-slaves into a people at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19 ff.). ‘Judah’, meanwhile recalls Leah and Jacob’s fourth son, named by his mother: “ ‘… This time I will praise [odeh] the Eternal.’ Therefore she called his name Y’hudah…” (Gen. 29:35). As we consider these transformational moments, we might note, that in each case, a name denoting an individual became associated with the people – and later with a nation. Jewish teaching reveals a continuous dynamic and interplay between the individual and the collective, from the lives of our matriarchs and patriarchs onwards. 

Whatever we have to say about Jewish life in general, each individual Jew has his or her own story to tell. May 3rd will mark the 90th anniversary of the birth of the poet Yehuda Amichai, who died on September 22, 2000. Born Ludwig Pfeuffer in  HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W%C3%BCrzburg” \o “Würzburg” Würzburg, Germany, his very name reflects the transformation of a diaspora Jew into an Israeli: Yehuda Amichai; Y’hudah – the name from which the words, Y’hudi, Jew, and Y’hudim, ‘Jews’ are derived – and Amichai, which means literally, ‘My people lives’. And yet, closely identified with his people, and his new Israeli identity as he was, through his poetry, Yehuda Amichai spoke with a unique voice, reflecting his own perspective, both on his personal experience, and on the experience of his people. Indeed, as we read his poems, we are reminded of what it means to be human, and of our connection to other human beings of all religions, races and ethnicities. In one poem, in particular, he helps us to recognise an affinity seldom acknowledged in political discourse. Let me quote from it:

An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion

And on the opposite hill I am searching for my little boy.
An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father
Both in their temporary failure.
Our two voices met above the
The Sultan’s Pool in the valley between us…
Searching for a goat or for a child has always been
The beginning of a new religion in these mountains.


Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah