ישראל

STATE OF ISRAEL

  • Official name: State of Israel

  • Size: 8,019  square miles (20,770 square kilometers); slightly larger than New Jersey

  • Population: 8,793,000 as of 2017

  • Capital: Jerusalem; although Israel proclaimed its capital in 1950, the United States and other countries embassies in Tel Aviv

  • Official Languages: Hebrew and Arabic

  • Literacy: 97.8%

  • Currency: New Israeli shekel

  • Climate: Temperate; hot and dry in southern and eastern desert areas

  • Agriculture Products: citrus, vegetables, cotton, beef, poultry, dairy, cut diamonds, machinery and equipment

  • Industries: high-technology products such as aviation and medical electronics, wood and paper products, food, beverages, tobacco, cement, construction, metals, chemical products, plastics, diamond cutting, textiles, footwear 

Symbols
The Emblem

The emblem of the State of Israel tells the story of the country's history, people and land. It shows the Menorah from the Holy Jewish Temple of Jerusalem, an ancient symbol of the Jewish people, with olive branches surrounding it.  

It reminds us of the journey of the Jewish people from exile after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, to return in modern times with the reestablishment of the State of Israel almost 2,000 years later.

Symbolically, the Menorah, removed from the Temple about 1900 years ago and paraded triumphantly through Rome, has returned to Jerusalem and Israel, restored to its former glory.

The olive branches also refer to the restoration of the glory of the State of Israel, since they provided a never ending supply of oil for the Menorah according to the prophet Zechariah's vision. Olive branches also symbolize peace, as after the flood a dove brought one to Noah to show that the floodwaters were receding and peace would return. The desire for peace is a very strong principle of the State of Israel.

The Flag

The flag of the State of Israel was first flown at the United Nations in 1949. The sight of the Israeli flag, symbolic of the Jewish return to their Promised Land, filled the hearts of Jews everywhere with pride and joy.

The flag's two blue horizontal stripes remind us of the tallit (prayer shawl) in which Jews wrap themselves when they pray. This reminds us of the faith and prayers of the many generations of Jews who continually longed for their homeland.

The Shield of David (Magen David) between the stripes is a traditional symbol of Judaism. It comprises two triangles: one pointing up towards all that is spiritual and holy, and the other pointing down towards all that is earthly and secular. The Jews of of the State of Israel thus symbolically strive to bring together the spiritual and earthly worlds, the holy and secular. 

The Menorah

The Menorah originated as a seven-branched candelabrum carried by the Israelites through the Sinai desert. It is today on the emblem of the State of Israel.

When Moses received the Torah on Mt. Sinai, God showed him the prototype of the Menorah. Carved from one solid piece of gold, it had a central shaft and six branches, curved upwards, making seven branches altogether.

Following God's instructions, the Menorah for the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was made of pure gold, with seven straight branches and three feet. The number seven is significant in Judaism, so the seven branches were meaningfully chosen. They represent the six days of creation and the seventh day, the Sabbath, the day of rest. Thus the number of branches on the menorah serves as a constant reminder of our creator, God, and the importance of the Sabbath.

Three upside down cups were on each branch, and near the base was another cup, bringing the total to 22 cups. This is exactly equal to the number of letters in the Aleph Bet (the Hebrew alphabet). The 9 flowers decorating the menorah symbolized the world’s potential for growth and development, and the 11 egg-shaped bulbs represented limitless spiritual pleasure.

The High Priest (Kohen Gadol) of the Temple lit the Menorah every day as evening approached. All the flames of the Menorah faced the central lamp. As this lamp faced the Holy of Holies, it was called the ner ma'aravi, the western lamp. This lamp would burn miraculously long after the others had burned out, until it was time to rekindle the Menorah the next day, even though it was the first one kindled each time. This was seen as a sign to the world that God dwelt with the Jewish people.

After the destruction of the first Menorah with the first Temple, and then the loss of the remade Menorah with the destruction of the second Temple, it was remembered as the most important symbol of the Jewish people.

The Menorah was used to illuminate manuscripts during the Middle Ages, and Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) took it as a representation of the sefirot (emanations of God). Today the Menorah is a familiar symbol, appearing among other places on Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows in Jerusalem, at the Ghetto memorial in Warsaw, and outside the Knesset building in Jerusalem.

History

According to the Bible, Israel owes its beginnings to a man by the name of Abraham. Abraham lived in Mesopotamia in the city of Ur around 1900 B.C. Abraham was apparently a wealthy merchant with a large household consisting of his family and servants.

Abraham’s religion was revolutionary compared to other religions of the day. Most religions of that time period believed in the worship of multiple deities. Abraham and his followers believed in just one all-powerful God whom they referred to as ADONAI.

Abraham and his followers eventually left Ur to found a new civilization in the land of Canaan. Canaan was among the most fertile lands in the region, and was coveted by farmers for the ease of growing crops.

For the next two generations the Israelites lived in Canaan in relative peace. Abraham’s grandson, whose name was Jacob, was the father of 12 sons. Each of these sons grew to become leaders over their own tribe. These tribes became known as the 12 tribes of Israel.

Since the time of the 12 tribes, many powers have ruled the area, including the Egyptians, Persians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and Islamic leaders. 

Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, is considered a holy city by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike. This city is the historical hub of all three religions and faithful followers of each religion have fought over it. Jews believe the Messiah will one day appear here, Muslims believe that Muhammad ascended to heaven from here, and Christians believe this is where Jesus rose from the dead.

After the Nazi takeover of many countries in Europe, the Jews who were able to leave needed a new home. Many went to Israel. The State of Israel was created after Israel fought with its Arab neighbors and the British left Palestine in 1948.

In 1967, after the Six Day War, Israel took control of Arab areas of Palestine which included the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai, and the Golan Heights. To secure peace, Israel in 1982 ended its occupation of the Sinai Peninsula and returned the land to Egypt.

Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 after capturing it in 1967.

A Palestinian rebellion, called an intifada, began in 1987 and took hundreds of lives before negotiations resulted in a 1993 accord that granted Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Jericho.

The Israeli military withdrew from all West Bank cities by 1997—and also left southern Lebanon in 2000. After peace talks failed another intifada started in September 2000, and most of the West Bank was reoccupied by 2002.

Geography

Israel is a small country in the Middle East about the size of the state of New Jersey. The country has a diverse climate with snowy mountains in the north and the hot desert in the south. Jordan, Syria, and the Palestinian Authority all border Israel to the east. Lebanon serves as the northern border and Egypt borders in the south.

More than half of the population lives on the narrow coastal plain near the Mediterranean Sea to the west. The Dead Sea between Israel and Jordan is the lowest point on the Earth's surface at 1,365 feet (416 meters) below sea level. The water is so salty and rich in mineral deposits that no plants and animals can survive there. The water is warm year round.

In the south and east land is hot and dry. The Negev Desert in southern Israel receives only 1 inch (32 mm) of rain a year. In the north, Galilee is known to have the most fertile farmland in the country.

Government

Israel is the only fully democratic country in the Middle East. Elections are held for seats in the Knesset or parliament every four years. If a party wins 2 percent of the votes, the party gets one or more seats in parliament. No one party has control so they have to work together. 

The leader of the largest party becomes prime minister. He/she appoints a cabinet of ministers which runs the country. The 120 members of the Knesset elect a president who is the head of state. 

Peace is fragile in this volatile region. Most Jewish Israeli men and women join the Israeli Defense Forces after they finish school. Men serve for three years and women serve for two. 

The United States gives aid to Israel and its neighbors Egypt and Jordan to help keep the region stable. Israel began to build a wall hundreds of miles long around the West Bank to stop suicide bombers from entering Israel. Some believe the wall cuts towns and farms in half while others feel it is necessary for the security of Israel.

Lifestyles

About two-thirds of the population was born in Israel. All other Israelis come from over 100 different countries. Most Israeli Jews live a lifestyle similar to western Europeans and North Americans.

Israel's population is about 75 percent Jewish; most of the rest is Arab. The Palestinian territories have some 3.5 million inhabitants—about 11 percent Jewish, 89 percent Palestinian.

Innovation

One of Israel’s sources of pride is the enormous number of inventions and innovations that have taken root on its soil over its short life – despite challenges of geography, size and diplomacy. The ever-churning Israeli mind has brought us drip irrigation, the cherry tomato, the electric car grid, the Disk-on-Key and much more.

 

Check out the top 64 innovations created in Israel. This list was created in celebration of Israel's 64th birthday in 2012.

Learn more about Israeli innovation at ISRAEL21c.

© 2016 by Rabbi David Paskin

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