Binyamin Zahav
It’s Ways Are Ways of Peace

Harmonizing the Duality of Yom Ha’Atzmaut

Yom Ha’Atzmaut is a difficult day for a progressive, open-orthodox, Rabbi. On the one hand, I celebrate our return to Zion and national rebirth in the land of our ancestors.

Yet I have two hands, and few things in life can be explained with one hand.

Alas, the return to Zion is but one facet of the day. An honest Jew cannot ignore that our victory also brought about pain and despair for others. You may stone me, yet I will not refrain from saying it. A Nakba happened, and we cannot ignore it. The nuances are complicated and many early Zionists tried to prevent it, but it happened. The narrative of the other cannot be ignored.

In order to liberate ourselves we need to hear the story of the other. Because dual narratives needn’t exclude the other.

Rightwing extremists often choose to deny it, but one who is honest cannot ignore the pain and suffering of others. We both have suffered, – Arab and Jew alike. We must try to understand why they throw stones at us! Perhaps it is a desperate cry for a reunification of cousins?

After ruminating on these issues for many years, I created a new approach to Yom Ha’Atzmaut, one which celebrates the day whilst also mourning the sadness that came about because of it. I will share some bullets points to explain the ideas that fuel my Zionism and my celebration on Independence Day.

  • A Day of Inclusivity: My Israeli Independence Day is an expression of inclusivity, and a desire to understand the other. With this sentiment fueling my heart, it is a time to celebrate Zion and a time to cry as well, by recognizing that not all of Ibrahim’s children are happy with the end-result. I celebrate the day in diverse company, a carnival if you will of believers and unbelievers, zealots and clowns, gurus and mystics, radicals and right wingers, and people who express their sexuality in diverse ways. 
  • Nakba Awareness: My Yom Ha’Atzmaut needn’t ignore the pain of another narrative, or ignore the Nakba that transpired. I can cry and laugh at the same time. I can engage in discussions. While I celebrate, I also set aside time to cry, as I sit with my Arab friends and hear their narratives. Perhaps to dance their dances as well. 
  • Open Orthodoxy Means Openness To Heresy: My Independence Day celebrations are fueled by a religious Zionism that is open as well as orthodox. A Zionism of queer poetry and Halachic flexibility that enables a woman to retain her reproductive rights, or a man to celebrate the holiest union with another man within the spirit of Judaism. I will not celebrate as other religious Zionists are wont to do, with a burning wish for a theocratic state or a messiah looking to burn drag queens. Heretical notions are liberating for the religious Jew. They enable the sacred flame to be fed and grow with fresh ideas and revolutionary thought.
  • Diversity: My Zionism isn’t xenophobic or seeking to destroy the Supreme Court of the only democracy of the Middle East. Judicial reform means a return to the Dark Ages, and I fear the return of stonings! I shan’t allow it, and in the name of halacha I shall fight the creation of a theocratic state.
  • We Are Both Indigenous: My Zionism and Yom Ha’Atzmaut accepts that Jews are indigenous to the land but so are our Arab cousins. Only racists would say otherwise. We are both sons of Ibrahim/Avraham, and so we are both aboriginal peoples to the region!
  • Flexibility: My Zionism is playful and confident. It bends the halacha to our times as our scholars have always done. My Zionism and religion is comfortable in its identity. As an open orthodox Rabbi, I proudly join my life partner/wife in wearing a pink hat with ears in a march for reproductive rights for all birthing people. Independence Day is a time to celebrate the freedom from religious constraints. 
  • Peace Now: My Zionism is for peace. I am glad that I am not alone, and that proud Jews on the scene like Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen and Rudy Rochman are creating an inclusive Jewish identity that embraces our Semitic and Levantine sisters and brothers, as well as those who care not to identify as one or the other. Such people seek peace even as other religious Jews condemn them for their peace activism and even mock them.

These are the things I celebrate on Israel’s Independence Day. Alas my barbecue is a tofu steak, but it is still an authentic Israeli barbecue (mangal). Yet there is always time to meet with my other friends and families who also do not eat the flesh of the swine, yet neither do they celebrate what they call the Nakba. I cry with them over their losses, and I dance their dances, as I hope for the day when we are both united under the sun, both Jew and Arab.

Inshallah it will happen.

About the Author
Binyamin Zahav is an open-orthodox pluralistic Rabbi who advocates for humanism and an inclusive indigenous expression in Israel that embraces Arab and Jew.
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