Tomorrow is November 2, 2017.
Tomorrow will be exactly 100 years since James Balfour, then Britain’s Foreign Secretary, penned a letter to Jewish community leader Lord Rothschild to be communicated to Britain’s Zionist Federation.
Given the inestimable significance of this Declaration to the Jewish people, it is as bewildering as it seems shameful that the Balfour Declaration Centenary will pass barely noticed, not celebrated by any of our national and local Jewish community leaders. It is, however, according to distributed notices, being celebrated by two private organizations in Toronto and Winnipeg.
For those who have heard of the Balfour Declaration, but are unfamiliar with the details, Barbara Kay has written an informative tribute to Lord Balfour and his Declaration. Kay begins saying it “may be the most consequential foreign-policy statement in modern history.”
The significance of the Balfour Declaration, however, must be viewed in context of the faith, beliefs, hopes, dreams and prayers for a miracle that have been part of the Jewish religion – and at the core of the Jewish people – since the time of the Babylonian Exile that began in 597 BCE, when Judah was conquered and Solomon’s Temple was destroyed.
It was during that forced Jewish exile to Babylon (modern Iraq) that Psalm 136 (some numbering it 137) was written. It is part of the Book of Psalms in the Ketuvim (writings) that, along with Torah and Nevi’m, comprises what we commonly call our Tanakh.
Psalm 136 says in part (1-6):
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat, we also wept when we remembered Zion.
On willows in its midst we hung our harps.
For there our captors asked us for words of song and our tormentors [asked of us] mirth, “Sing for us of the song of Zion.”
“How shall we sing the song of the Lord on foreign soil?”
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget [its skill].
May my tongue cling to my palate, if I do not remember you, if I do not bring up Jerusalem at the beginning of my joy.
Though the Jews began to return to Judah in 537 BCE and ultimately built their second Temple in Jerusalem, they were again ruled by others – first the Persians, then the Greeks, and then the Romans.
It was the Romans, after contending with two Jewish revolts, that finally, in putting down the third Jewish revolt in 70 CE, destroyed the second Temple and exiled many of the Jews from their lands (creating the Diaspora). The Romans renamed the land Palestina (after the Aegian Phillistines) in an effort to erase the history and memory of the Jewish connection to their land.
The Jews, however, never forgot.
While Psalm 136 continued to be recited as part of Jewish liturgy thereafter, yet another phrase became very much part of Judaic liturgical practice and prayer, “Next Year in Jerusalem” which, according to Kol Hamevaser, “makes two appearances annually in Jewish liturgy: at the conclusion of the Passover Seder and at the conclusion of the Ne’ilah service of Yom Kippur…. The custom to say “Next year in Jerusalem” on Passover existed as early as the Thirteenth Century, and the phrase itself appears even earlier in piyyutim (liturgical poems) for both Passover and Yom Kippur.”
“Next Year In Jerusalem,” like Psalm 136, has over the centuries been the embodiment of Judaic faith and Jewish hopes, dreams and prayers for G-d to grant a miracle whereby they would be able to return as sovereign people to their ancestral lands and restore the Holy Temple in their beloved capital city, Jerusalem.
Despite being exiled from their lands, some Jews remained, albeit as subjugated, second-class people, ruled by Romans, then by Christians, and later by the Ottoman Empire. The fact remains, Jews have had a continual presence in the land of Israel for more than 3,000 years.
Without a doubt, G-d or serendipitous coincidence, whichever one chooses to believe, set things in motion to move James Balfour to write his famous Declaration to Lord Rothschild on November 2, 1917. The Balfour Declaration proved to be nothing less than a planted seed that what would blossom and become the miracle for which the Jews had been praying for three millennia.
Thereafter Britain – and many in the international community – moved by their antisemitism and the fear of jeopardizing their oil interests by offending oil-producing Arab states, turned against the Jews.
Nevertheless, the Balfour Declaration somehow survived, grew and ultimately flowered with the rebirth of the Jewish State of Israel on May 14, 1948, or Yom Ha’atzmaut, a day we have celebrated ever since.
Given all that, surely, celebrating the Centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the miraculous seed that was planted on November 2, 1917, is every bit as important as celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut. Without the planting of that miraculous seed, there would be no Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations and no prayers of gratitude to thank G-d that Israel, as she is today, will be ours forever.
Ben Gurian’s famous words, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles,” might also apply to Jews today. When that miracle we have prayed for happens, surely there is no better reason to celebrate and give thanks.
There has been notice of only two events in Canada celebrating the Balfour Declaration Centenary. Neither of these events is being organized by our national or local leadership organizations.
Rather, the first event, “The Reality of the Impossible Dream,” is being put on by two private organizations in Toronto: CanadiansForBalfour100 and the Speakers Action Group. The event is described as “a theatrical and musical journey about how the Balfour Declaration paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel.”
For those in Winnipeg, two private organizations, Winnipeg Friends of Israel and Bridges for Peace Canada, are holding an event supported by the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba to celebrate the Balfour Declaration Centenary on November 27th, 2017 at the Clarion Hotel at 7:00 p.m.
It is with the foregoing in mind that one is moved to ask, why our national and local Jewish leadership, The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’Nai Brith, Jewish Federations, and indeed the vast majority of our Canadian Jewish community at large, are allowing the centenary of the planting of the miraculous seed of the Balfour Declaration on November 2nd, 1917 to pass virtually unnoticed?