We live in complicated times where almost everything seems to be politicized. Israel is no exception, and is a lightning rod when it comes to political divisiveness both globally, and more concerning, within the Jewish community. It is not that Israel should be above legitimate criticism, or that Jews should wear blinders when it comes to Israel’s shortcomings. What concerns me is that much of the criticism levied against Israel is often based on limited knowledge, misinformation, or biases propagated by those committed to Israel’s demise. This is often seen on college campuses where emotions frequently obliterate critical or rational thoughts.
The challenges facing Israel are real, existential in nature, and complex. Before we can have critical conversations about Israel, we need to be more knowledgeable, especially our young people. Most importantly, as Jews, we must love Israel first before engaging in critical conversations.
As we approach Israel’s 70th anniversary next week, this is a good time to remind ourselves why we, the Jewish people, must love Israel first and foremost. Israel is the home of our people, the place where our ancestors — our family — created our collective memories through building our culture, our traditions, our language, and our relationship with God. It is where the sights, sounds and smells evoke a deep feeling of belonging and connection to the past, present, and a hopeful future. And because of Israel, for the first time in our history, we have no Jewish refugees anywhere in the world. Think about that: because of Israel, there are no Jewish refugees – our people have a place to go, to call our own.
Today, April 12, Jews around the world are marking Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day. This holiday was established by the Israeli government, and is observed by Jews worldwide. Imagine any other country declaring a holiday commemorating an event that did not take place there. That is exactly what Israel did – it established a day of mourning for the six million who died at the hands of Nazis in Europe.
One week later we will observe Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. Unlike Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron is particular to Israel, as it is a day of mourning for Israeli soldiers who have fought, been injured, and who have died in the establishment and defense of the State of Israel. However, it, too, impacts all Jews inside and outside of Israel, as it leads the very next day to Yom Ha-atzma’ut, Israel Independence Day! On Yom Ha-atzma’ut we celebrate the establishment and independence of the State of Israel in 1948, and the power we have as a people to govern ourselves.
As my teacher, Rabbi Avraham Infeld points out, the State of Israel is a celebration of our peoplehood. We commemorate Yom Hazikaron to acknowledge and memorialize the meaningful sacrifices made to establish the State of Israel so that we never again have to endure horrific events that could lead us to commemorate another Yom Hashoah. This is how Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha-atzma’ut all connect to one another, and to all Jews in Israel and around the world.
The State of Israel makes all of the difference for each one of us, whether we realize that regularly or not, for we have a home where our people are protected, where we can live freely as Jews, and where our traditions represent the majority culture. Whether we choose to live there, visit, or support it from afar, Israel belongs to each of us. In its 70th year, now is the time for each Jew to remember all that is priceless about the State of Israel, all that connects us – that we are mishpacha – family – and first and foremost, we love family. And when we feel that love and recognize that love for Israel, then we can analyze its merits and faults, such as we all have, while our support is unwavering.