Last year, on Yom Hashoah, I published the following blog. Today, on Yom Ha-atzma’ut, I feel compelled to republish a somewhat revised version because I believe these words need to be read and internalized, and, sadly, because nothing has changed. In fact, in the past year, and increasingly in the past few weeks, the situation facing Jews worldwide, and in Israel, has deteriorated. On this day, when we celebrate Israel’s 71 years of independence, let’s remember why the miracle of its existence is still, and forever, necessary:
For the Love of Israel
We live in complicated times where almost everything seems to be politicized, and the rise of anti-Semitism is both real and concerning. Israel 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. And it is indisputable that anti-Zionism (the belief that Israel should not exist) is just another veiled approach for anti-Semitic attacks against Jews.
The challenges facing Israel are real, existential in nature, and complex. We Jews have enough enemies, and so does Israel. Jews need to be unified in support for the right of Israel to exist, and for its citizens to live freely without fear of enemy attack! Before we can have critical conversations about Israel, Jews need to be more knowledgeable about our homeland, especially our young people. Most importantly, as Jews, we must love Israel first before engaging in critical analyses of its laws and policies.
Yom Ha-atzma’ut 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 created our collective memories through building our culture, our traditions, our language, and our relationship with God. Israel is where sights, sounds, and smells evoke a deep feeling of belonging and connectedness with 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.
Last week we marked 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 on its soil. But 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.
Yesterday, we marked 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 (today) 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 need 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. It is up to us to personalize these connections – to feel a part of our history, and the present moment.
The State of Israel makes all of the difference for each one of us, whether we realize it 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. Whether we choose to live there, visit, or support it from afar, Israel belongs to each of us. In its 71st 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.