What follows is an article about the upcoming holiday of Yom Haatzmaut that was recently published in The Orchard, a publication of the Jewish Federations of North America Rabbinic Cabinet. Follow this link to download the Spring 2011 edition. My article appears on page 19.
Why is tragedy compelling? Why is fear motivating? Why is mourning viewed as a greater obligation than celebrating? Why are more people familiar with the details of the Holocaust than the history of Zionism and Israel? These are the questions that occupy my thoughts as we approach Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day, and the celebration of 63 years of Jewish sovereignty.
To garner our support for the State of Israel we are inundated with images of Hezbollah missiles, Iran’s potential nuclear weapons, suicide bombings, divestment campaigns and in the estimation of many, dwindling support from the Obama administration. These are great worries to be sure. Israel does indeed face numerous threats. Some very real and some imagined. But my question on this Yom Haatzmaut is not about the dangers Israel faces, but instead about our personal connection to the Jewish state.
Why do we rally in far greater numbers when Israel is threatened rather than dance for joy each and every day that Israel continues to thrive? We live in an unparalleled generation of Jews. In our own day we find ourselves in a vibrant and successful diaspora community alongside a successful and vibrant Jewish state. Never before have these two co-existed. Either there was a thriving diaspora community as in Babylonia in the fifth century or a successful Jewish community in Israel as when King David ruled three thousand years ago. And so we lack historic parallels. How do we live and thrive side by side?
Of course we rise up when Israel needs us. Each of us knows how to stand by friends when they are in mourning, or experiencing tzuris. But why don’t we feel just as a great an obligation to celebrate? We should stand by Israel and sing and dance—each and every day. For two thousand years a Jewish state was only a dream. We live in a time when the dream is a reality. In a mere twelve hours (ok that is only the plane flight) you could be in Israel touching the very stones generations of Jews only dreamed of touching.
In Jerusalem in particular the air is thick with prayers. At first one thinks it is thick with the prayers of the thousands and thousands and thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews running to pray. That is one’s first impression. It is true that a lot of people do a lot of praying in Jerusalem. I think it is instead that the air is thick with the prayers of generations. My great grandparents prayed that one day their people would return to the land of their ancestors. A hundred years later their great grandson visits there regularly. What a privilege it is to live in our generation!
In our own day our prayers have become reality. When we celebrate Yom Haatzmaut I plan to sing (and maybe even dance—watch out party enhancers!). On this day especially I don’t want my support for Israel to be motivated by fear, or tragedy. I want it only to be out how fortunate we are to live during these times. How blessed is our generation that we live alongside a vibrant and thriving State of Israel!