Flag Season

In a little over a week, we’ll celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, which caps off the spring string of patriotic holidays in Israel – the time of year where flags are everywhere we look. Actually, the blue and white paraphernalia began popping up in stores when there was still matzah on our tables. Hats, inflatable toys, light-up rings and glasses, tableware, wristbands and, of course, flags. Oh, the flags: large and small, fabric and plastic, strung like pennants and tacked to flimsy poles, some with clips on the end, ready to hit the road.

Cynics may call this a mere marketing bonanza, no different than beach towels and pool toys hawked in summer, umbrellas and kitschy earmuffs in winter.

But sometimes a flag is more than just a flag.

Our lapis double stripes and six-point star, which served as the symbol of the early Zionist movement before being officially adopted as Israel’s ensign in 1948, are more than a (much maligned) political motif. They contain the code that brought us to this amazing arc in the story of the Jewish people. Like the lights of the menorah, that other iconic national symbol, our flag proclaims its message not only to the world at large but, more significantly, to us who raise it: Remember how you got here. Give thanks for the miracles of past and present. Rejoice in your heritage – and guard it courageously.

The hexagram at the focal point of our flag is, of course, the Magen David, David’s shield. Though it did not become widespread as a Jewish symbol until the 19th century, the so-called Jewish star was used as a decorative motif much earlier and has deep Kabbalistic sources. Among its many interpretations, the 12 sides are said to represent the 12 tribes of Israel, with G-d at the center; alternatively, the six triangular points are the six earthly directions over which G-d, our spiritual core, has dominion.

The Magen David stands for Jewish unity and destiny, and also evokes King David’s divinely endowed strength to vanquish Israel’s enemies. Above and below it, the blue stripes on the flag represent the tallit as well as the tzitit fringes which are colored with the ancient (and recently rediscovered) celestial-hued techelet dye. These stripes are our faith, our Torah, its rituals and ideals. They frame the mighty star, keeping it centered and aloft.

Thus, our humble flag, with its deceptively simple design and color scheme, keeps us connected to the timeless symbols of our lives as Jews and their power to unite us. Our haters know the potency of the flag; that’s why they burn it and deface it in vile cartoons. Seeing that, many Jews hesitate to pledge their allegiance. In an age of exploding anti-Semitism across the globe – hatred spoken in the halls of power of the world’s most enlightened societies, verbal and physical intimidation on university campuses, attacks in synagogues and on city streets – waving the Israeli flag is more than a display of patriotism. It is an act of inspiration and empowerment.

As the Diaspora’s safety zones continue to vanish as if built on quicksand, let our brothers and sisters abroad be reminded that the blue and white spells h-o-m-e. (Sorry, Ilhan and Co., dual loyalty does not mean disloyalty. Only one who sees Israel as America’s enemy would equate the two.)

Nation-state law or no nation-state law, the banners bobbing against car windows and billowing from balconies whisper the truth like a song: I am the flag of the Jewish State.

About the Author
Ziona Greenwald feels grateful to be living with her husband and children in Jerusalem, where she is a freelance writer and editor. She holds a J.D. from Fordham Law School, and worked both in publishing and in the court system back in New York, when Aliyah was still a dream to be realized.
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