For the Religious Zionist community, Yom Ha’atzmaut is a day of profound religious significance. The day is observed as a festival, instituted by the Chief Rabbinate, with special prayers of thanksgiving offered for the miraculous birth of the State of Israel.
But unfortunately Yom Ha’atzamaut has become a divisive day, with some communities refusing to recognize its significance. Some even protest.
In the early years, following the founding of the State, things were much simpler. Yom Ha’atzmaut was celebrated by all sectors of the religious community alike. Hallel was sung in Bnei Brak’s Great Synagogue and Hasidim, dressed in festive frocks and fur hats, danced in her streets. Israeli flags flew proudly in fervently religious neighborhoods — the Agudath Israel even encouraging placing them in the window!
The day was marked in yeshivot, like Hebron and Ponevezh. To this day, the flag is flown over the Ponevezh Yeshiva out of deference to its founder, Rabbi Yosef Kahaneman, who began the practice. Rabbi Kahaneman’s positive feelings towards Yom Ha’atzmaut, and the State of Israel, also led him to omit the Tahanun prayer, traditionally omitted on festive occasions.
In recent years, attempts have been made to revise history. But the truth remains that in the early years of Statehood many across the religious spectrum found religious meaning in the day. They saw the day as an opportune time for national unity, and joined together with the rest of the country in celebration.
An editorial, which appeared in Hamodia, celebrated Israel’s third birthday and encouraged its readers to do the same. The piece, published on the 4thtof Iyyar, 1951 began,
All over the country and throughout the Diaspora, we will celebrate the State of Israel’s third Independence Day with military demonstrations, stately ceremonies, and gatherings across the country and the Diaspora, together with tens and hundreds of displays and expressions of joy, where the masses will express their excitement for this major historical event.
This holiday is for all citizens of the State of Israel, and any Jew wherever he is who sees himself as part of the Jewish Nation. On this day, we forget our differences of views and stances. Conflicts and disputes that divide us are closed and buried, and the people will celebrate, united and undivided.
For together as one we went through the War of Independence, with all it entailed. We have all paid a heavy price, with our young sons. And together we share the burden, till today, of the realization of the in-gathering of the scattered of Israel, for whose sake the State was established…
The State of Israel was born by religious and non-religious alike, as Jews of every stripe and political or religious affiliation fought for her Independence. They had not the luxury to sit back and be sectarian.
At a time when tensions are high in the State of Israel, the truths of history remind us that we have more in common than what sets us apart. Would we only be able to get back to that simpler place in time and, just for one day, set aside our difference to celebrate again, “united and undivided.”