Israel is celebrating 70 years of remarkable achievement. Looking back to its beginnings and seeing where we are today, there is clearly much to be proud of and even astonished by. Starting out as a fledgling country of immigrants whose first task was to defend itself in a war for survival, and surviving many wars since, coping with terror, the ebb and flow of politics, religious conflicts, we nevertheless managed to build an amazing thriving country. From a desolation of sand dunes, today's Tel Aviv has a world reputation as the non-stop city, a city that virtually never sleeps. And speaking of "virtual", a vast amount of the "virtual" world was invented right here. Israel has become a world leader in hi-tech startups, contributing to the world's major advances in agriculture (drip irrigation, cherry tomatoes, dairy herd management, to name a few), communications (telecom marketing, mobile phone capabilities WhatsApp, Waze, and so much more), medical breakthroughs too numerous to mention, desalination, security and defense systems… and the list could go on. Our respected Universities and defense establishment have provided the knowledge based abilities to power all this invention, innovation and development. Israel can boast a level of culture that is outstanding for a country so new and so small. Musicians, writers, artists and filmmakers have made a mark on the world's stage. We have more than our share of Nobel Prize winners and now our TV series are being purchased by overseas companies to great acclaim.
Look where we started, and look what we've accomplished! We have a great deal to be tremendously proud of as a nation and as a people.
ESRA has a lot to be proud of too. Next year, ESRA will be celebrating 40 years of serving the English-speaking community, helping olim from many countries, and any Israeli in need. But we needn't wait till next year to celebrate. Right now and every day we can be proud of ESRA's achievements. Starting out in Merle Guttmann's living room as a small group of English-speaking olim who sought to help each other acclimate to their new home, they soon extended their supportive embrace to encompass other English-speaking olim, and then waves of olim from other countries, from Russia to Ethiopia, and finally to where we are today – offering help to any needy sector of Israeli society, in the form of financial aid, scholarships, education, and afternoon centers for children, teens, and the handicapped.
We now have over 800 volunteers, 21 branches from Eilat to Nahariya, 25 Education and Welfare projects, a fabulous magazine, and a brand-new website (soon to be launched). Our annual fund-raising concerts are a highlight in the year's calendar, as is the annual concert given by Gil Shohat in support of ESRA's Hand in Hand Food Pantry.
Reaching out to overseas Jewish communities, we have recently initiated a UK Friends of ESRA, with a launch event featuring a talk by author and Man Booker Prize winner, Howard Jacobson in the beautiful home of Sir Sydney & Lady Lipworth, in London. We aim to have members of the Friends association visit our projects when they are in Israel and see first-hand the work they help support.
Let me say once again: Look where we started, and look what we've accomplished! We have a great deal to be tremendously proud of not only as a nation, and as a people, but also as an organization.
As we look back over 40 years of ESRA, and 70 years of Israel, we take pride in our country, and in our own accomplishments as well. We have a great deal to be proud of – so celebrate!
And celebrate we will on 27th May, with the ESRA Volunteer Awards event to show our appreciation to 14 of our wonderful volunteers.
Winston Churchill was quoted as saying "I always avoid prophesying beforehand, because it is a much better policy to prophesy after the event has already taken place".
Basing my prophesies on what has happened to date, I prophesy that both Israel and ESRA will continue to celebrate successes together.