Today is Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, the 73rd Anniversary of the birth of the modern State of Israel. Today is a day to put aside our differences about Israel, to shelve our angsts about the political divisiveness and our criticisms of its political decisions, to give pause, and to remind ourselves and celebrate the miracle of Israel.
As exquisitely expressed in the Torah, Israel has inextricably been integral to who we are and why we exist. There is a direct and clear connection between the land, God, and how we should act. This can be found in texts from the Book of Genesis to the writings of Roman Empire historian, Josephus, to poets and rabbis throughout the ages.
During two thousand years of exile, the Jews prayed toward Jerusalem, and we yearned for our return to the land. We never gave up hope that one day the Jewish people would return to Israel. That hope kept us together, no matter where we lived in the world. It was that unabated yearning and love for Israel that allowed Jews to never forget the singular importance of the land to our people.
When Israel was reborn as a modern State in 1948, it was akin to a modern day miracle. It is where Judaism can be practiced and expressed freely, and the Jewish people represent the majority culture. Israel is where the Jewish people are safe and protected by a Jewish army.
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 ancestors where our stories were created and our collective memories shaped the building of 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 Jews who died at the hands of Nazis on another continent.
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 story, 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. Whether we choose to live there, visit, or support it from afar, Israel belongs to each of us. In its 73rd year, now is the time for each Jew to remember all that is priceless about the State of Israel, all that connects us – as we are mishpacha – family – and first and foremost, we love family and our family home. 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.
At Schechter, Tzionut – Zionism is a core Jewish value: “We foster a love of the State of Israel, Zionism and the Hebrew language as an essential part of each student’s Jewish identity. Our Annual Eighth-Grade Israel Encounter solidifies our students’ connection to the land, culture and people of Israel.”
We are proud to be a school that has at its core the love of Israel. I celebrate that commitment as a school and with pride for my personal love I have for the land, language, culture and my people. Today we focus on our love for Israel; it’s centrality to our amazing and sacred story and the necessity of its existence for the security and safety of the Jewish people everywhere.