As the people of Israel, begin to gather their flags, and start to prepare their barbecues to celebrate this 68th anniversary of the re-establishment of the State of Israel, we, the Jews of the Diaspora, should take a moment to take pride of all that we have achieved in the last short 68 years.
Despite being surrounded by enemies sworn to her destruction, Israel has thrived by every and any measure imaginable. Today, with the population inching only over 8.5 million, Israel has become one of the world leaders in science, innovation, agriculture, academia, and – dare I say – morality in its conduct of military operations. Israel has gotten to where it is today with a total population roughly equal to that of New York City or London, but half the size of Delhi, and one- third the size of Shanghai.
It is imperative for all Jews around the world to realize that our standing in the world – our reputation – rises and falls with that of the State of Israel. Many Jews in the Diaspora today would like to believe that they are entirely integrated in their societies, whether in the United States, Europe, South America, or anywhere else in the world. Some would even like to separate themselves from their Jewish roots. While we are in a sense well-integrated, and for the most part, contribute to the communities in which we live in a positive manner, we should not make the same mistake made by our parents, grandparents, and every generation before them.
Remember, hundreds of thousands of Jews did not flee Europe upon the rise of the Nazi party, because they were “Germans first,” “Polish first,” “Hungarian first,” “Europeans first.” Their feelings were understandable, as much like today, Jews in Europe in the mid-1930s were at the top of society. For the Europeans however, the Jews were just Jews.
Today, we are faced with the new reality: rising Islamic extremism around the world, alongside a fast rising tide of anti-Semitism around every corner (See, British labour party, BDS movement, daily terror attacks). While the academics and news pundits would like to separate statements and movements about and against the State of Israel, and anti-Semitism, for those behind those movements there is no distinction. In the Arab world, the words “Jew” and “Israeli” are synonymous. Similarly, the “BDS movement” will interrupt and boycott Holocaust Memorial ceremonies, just as fast as they would Israeli Knesset members.
Whether you like it or not, we are inextricably intertwined with our homeland, the State of Israel. It is time to start a movement amongst all Jews in the diaspora, a movement of pride, a movement of strength, and a movement where we stand proudly — and unapologetically — alongside our young State. Whether you are liberal, conservative, religious, or non-religious, there is a seat for you at the table, you are well represented in the government, and you have much to be proud of.
In 2014, I was lucky enough to have celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) in Jerusalem. (Here is my 2014 blogpost about that amazing experience.) If you need proof that Israelis do not take their statehood for granted, you have to experience this day in Israel. The evening before Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Independence Day) begins, Israelis commemorate the over 23,000 people who have been killed defending the State of Israel since 1948 – Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day). The nation truly mourns. Each community holds its own ceremony to remember those who have been lost from their community. This is a personal loss for all Israelis. The Jews in the Diaspora must recognize and internalize the fact that each of the 23,477 that have died defending our State. This is a personal loss for every one of us.
Only after 24 hours of remembering and paying respects to those who were lost, do the celebrations of Yom Ha’Atzmaut begin. The transition from one day to the next is a sight to be seen. The country comes alive. The feeling is that we need to move forward and live our lives in a positive, happy and productive manner in our historic homeland – despite the obstacles, despite the anti-Semitism, despite the calls for our destruction – in honor of those who have lost their lives in this pursuit. Israelis are molded by the feeling that is in the air the minutes between Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron) and Independence Day (Yom HaAtzmaut) – they celebrate life and keep moving one foot in front of the other, while never forgetting all of those that sacrificed their lives so that they can fulfill the dream of our forefathers, the dream of Zion: to be a free people in our Land.
So, today, take a moment to be proud of what we, the people of Israel, the Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora, have accomplished in these past short 68 years. The State of Israel was re-established in 1948 for the Jews in all four corners of the world. To be sure, you can ask the Jews of France, Russia, Ethiopia, Argentina, Morocco, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and every other nation from where Jews fled to Israel since 1948.
In fact, when David Ben-Gurion stood before the “Jewish People’s Council” at the Tel Aviv museum, and declared on May 14, 1948 he asked the Jews in the Diaspora to “rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and up-building and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream – the redemption of Israel.”
The Jews of the Diaspora should heed Ben-Gurion’s call and proudly, unabashedly, and unequivocally rally around the Jews of Israel.
We should also all pray that G-d grant “peace in the land and grant its inhabitants eternal happiness.” (Prayer for the State of Israel.)
Happy Yom Ha’atzmaut.
Am Israel Chai.