Thursday, April 26, 2012

Yom Haatzmaut

64 years of independence deserves celebration!  64 years of Jewish sovereignty is cause for us to fill our sanctuary with music and song!

The Prayer for the State of Israel opens with the words: “Our Father in heaven, Rock of Israel and its Redeemer, bless the State of Israel, the first flowering of our redemption…”  This prayer was composed soon after the State of Israel was established in 1948.  Although its original version is attributed to the chief rabbis of the time, Rabbis Yitzhak Herzog and Ben Zion Uziel, it is widely believed that the Nobel Laureate, Shai Agnon, actually authored the prayer, especially this opening line.

Agnon remains the only Israeli author to be recognized by the Nobel committee for his achievements in literature and thus the only author recognized by them for his mastery of Hebrew.  In his 1966 acceptance speech he proclaimed in this reborn language: “As a result of the historic catastrophe in which Titus of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and Israel was exiled from its land, I was born in one of the cities of the Exile. But always I regarded myself as one who was born in Jerusalem.”

All Jews are bound to the city of Jerusalem.  All remain connected to the State of Israel.

Agnon continued: “In a dream, in a vision of the night, I saw myself standing with my brother-Levites in the Holy Temple, singing with them the songs of David, King of Israel, melodies such as no ear has heard since the day our city was destroyed and its people went into exile. I suspect that the angels in charge of the Shrine of Music, fearful lest I sing in wakefulness what I had sung in dream, made me forget by day what I had sung at night; for if my brethren, the sons of my people, were to hear, they would be unable to bear their grief over the happiness they have lost. To console me for having prevented me from singing with my mouth, they enable me to compose songs in writing.”

And thus Agnon reclaimed the power of the Hebrew language, weaving Jewish history and a mastery of biblical and rabbinic images with the modern experience.  He reminds us that our return to the land of Israel has restored music and song to our people.  It is our most fervent dream realized.

Israel represents the beginnings of our redemption because it signifies the Jewish return to our sacred land.  There we have reestablished Jewish sovereignty.  His prayer captures this tenant of our modern Jewish faith, the centrality of the State of Israel.  It is certainly not a perfect place, but Agnon reminds us that the chain of history was reclaimed by the modern state and there our faith restored.

The Palestinians’ denial of the Jewish historical connection to the land of Israel is one of the great stumbling blocks to making peace.  Their insistence that Israel represents a foreign, European transplant in the Arab Middle East, that Israel is only about recompense for the Holocaust, stands in the way of many efforts to establish peace between two peoples who both have legitimate claims to the same land.  Denying the other’s claims will never lead to peace!  We must therefore never do likewise.         

It is true that there are many things that are new about the modern State of Israel.  Yet it is also a fundamental truth that its meaning hearkens back to ancient days.  It represents not a rupture in history but an unbroken chain, stretching from God’s promise to Abraham to the modern day Knesset.  Some might become uncomfortable when ascribing such religious meaning to a modern state.  But the danger is only when we begin to see modern events as a reenactment of ancient days.  Then we begin to erode the democratic character of the State of Israel.  Israel must forever remain both democratic and Jewish. 

One can derive great meaning from standing in the very city that King David proclaimed as his capital.  But we are not King David.  And these are not messianic days.

They are only the beginning of our redemption.  And that is a great start, and one worthy of great fanfare and celebration.

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