When I was growing up in the conservative and closed-off Haredi London community, we didn’t celebrate Israel’s Independence Day.
Our Hebrew teacher, a native Israeli, naively brought flags and falafel to the classroom in order to share her joy with us schoolgirls. We had about three minutes of happy flag-waving before the headmistress walked in and pronounced it “over”.
When we asked why, she gave a senseless explanation that was intended to silence us. As the only girl in the classroom with an Israeli parent, I personally felt furious.
To this day, I don’t understand the willingness of certain Jews to deny Israel’s right to celebrate independence. Granted, not all believe it should be a religious holiday — although many Orthodox Jews recite Hallel (prayer of thanks) and even add a special Haftarah (Torah reading) to their daily prayers, as ruled by the Chief Rabbinate.
And yes, I am aware that today’s Israel in no way represents returning to “Yerushalayim Habnuya” (rebuilt Jerusalem), as it will be when we are truly redeemed and our temple is revived once more.
What I am talking about is the lack of unity that some very religious Jews seem determined to promote through their narrow-minded eyes, to the point where they forbid their children to know of this day’s existence.
Rabbi Uri Regev, Director of Hiddush — Freedom of Religion for Israel, explains: “The act of ignoring Independence Day demonstrates both the anti-Zionist outlook of Haredi Jewry and the contempt it shows for the laws of the land. The Haredi leadership, which demands that we respect its public’s feelings and beliefs in every small way, tramples roughly over Independence Day.”
From my experiences living inside such a community, I am aware of the Haredi leaders’ fear to expose families to anything even slightly resembling corrupt morals. But despite Israel’s partly secular nature, they cannot deny that it is mentioned in the Torah numerous times and is the final destination for the Jews’ 40-year walk in the desert. How can a whole sector of Jewish people refuse to acknowledge its existence as the home of their nation? Especially when some of them ironically live on its land, and receive support from its government?
This outlook is incomprehensible to me.
Ten years later, during which I made aliyah, Independence Day takes on new meaning.
This day means much more than having a Jewish state, a home for Jews who were persecuted in the Diaspora, and a hold on the Land of Israel.
It is the freedom to be a Jew in whatever form you choose. The freedom to meet all kinds of Israelis and see what they bring to the table. Perhaps that family doesn’t believe in keeping Shabbat, perhaps she wears a head-covering and pants at the same time, perhaps he studies in Kollel and also works, and that’s okay.
I may still be figuring out the fine-tuning of my Jewish identity, but I know for a fact that I would never have advanced this far if I were living anywhere else. Because for me, Israel’s independence means the freedom to be your own style of Jew without being judged.