Imagine for a moment that Israel was established in Uganda in 1948. Far from those who seek its destruction, Israel would grow and prosper. Resources would be diverted toward the sciences rather than defensive measures, and Israeli innovations would benefit the entire human race without ever being questioned.
Israelis would walk the streets freely without fear and would sleep soundly through the night. Independence Day would be celebrated in its full glory, without the sad preface of the Memorial Day – there would be no need to cry for the tens of thousands of lives that were sacrificed for our homeland because no such sacrifices would have been made. Israel would just be, and this homeland would serve as a true safe haven for the Jewish people.
Still, that Ugandan utopia just wouldn't do.
When a Jew prays outside of Israel, he is told to orient himself towards Israel. When a Jew prays within Israel, he is told to face Jerusalem. Why? Because Jerusalem is ground zero for Jewish spirituality and culture, and the biblical and historical home base of our nation. It is the eternal focus of Jewish life. Thus, if Israel were to exist in Uganda, a Jew would always be facing out of his land during prayer. He would gaze longingly toward the City of Gold singing “If I forget thee O Jerusalem" and wondering why he hadn't fought to keep it.
Indeed, the only Israel that could ever truly be the homeland for the Jewish people is one that not only has the potential to include Jerusalem, but actually does. It is for this reason that we celebrate Jerusalem Day as much as Independence Day – it marks the day when our acquisition of the real Israel became complete and Jerusalem was once again in our hands.
Sacrifices must be made
So, was it all worth it? Was it worth reestablishing Israel amongst those who seek our destruction just to have Jerusalem? Is the symbolic heart of the Jewish people worth the thousands of actual hearts that were silenced on her behalf?
Trembling and teary-eyed we must answer in the affirmative. The Jewish nation is an entity – one might even say a phenomenon – greater than the individuals who comprise it, and, unfortunately, personal sacrifices must be made for the greater good, for the soul of our nation, for Jerusalem.
Those who gave their lives for Jerusalem, either as soldiers defending our land or as civilian casualties, did so for every Jew around the world, not just for those who live within Israel. Jerusalem is the focal point of our prayers and our lives, it unites us when nothing else can. As Jews, we are forever an “Am Echad, B’Lev Echad” – “One nation with one heart” – and that heart, as it has been for the past 3,000 years and will continue to be for all eternity, is Jerusalem.
No, Uganda just wouldn't do. You see, our heart already belongs to someone else.
Max Saltzman is the president of the Yeshiva University Israel Club and a Campus Aliyah Fellow for the Jewish Agency for Israel. He also serves as one of the heads of the New York chapter of Garin Aliyah, a support and networking group designed to help ease the Aliyah process for students