Over the past weeks and months, I have observed you flapping in the wind over highways, roads, and municipal buildings. You have been mounted on poles carried by hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem raising their voices to address critical issues facing the State and people of Israel today. You have enveloped tens of thousands of Jewish youth on their heritage visits to the death camps in Poland; I have seen your blue stripes and star on a white background overtake millions of social media feeds within a few hours of Rabbi Leo Dee’s request for people to post a picture of you for the world to see the eternal symbol of good and truth that you represent, in an attempt to push away the lies, pain, and darkness crowding the daily news cycle. Now, as we mark the national days of mourning and joy of the Modern State of Israel- Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, you proudly fly from car windows, balconies, synagogue entranceways, restaurants and parks ushering in the optimistic tones of blue and white as the nation prepares to celebrate 75 years of her existence with you.
HaDegel Sheli Hu Kachol V’Lavan- My flag is blue and white.
Israelis these days seem to disagree about almost every aspect of the current and future vision of the State of Israel, but there’s one thing they all seem to agree upon:
There’s only one flag of Israel and it speaks on behalf of all us.
The official flag of Israel with its blue stripes and Star of David was conceived in a meeting held in advance of the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897. Herzl had already shared his idea for the flag one year prior in his book Der Judenstaat. He envisioned a white flag with seven golden stars, the white symbolizing a new pure life and the seven stars representing the seven golden hours of the work-day. To nobody’s surprise, Herzl’s design received little to no fanfare.
David Wolfsohnn, another leading member of the Zionist movement present at the same meeting stood up and replied to Herzl that there was no need to design a new flag, they were already in possession of one as he held aloft his tallit for all to see and declared:
We have a flag — and it is blue and white. The talit with which we wrap ourselves when we pray: that is our symbol. Let us take this Talit from its bag and unroll it before the eyes of Israel and the eyes of all nations.” He then ordered a blue and white flag with the Shield of David painted on it and flew it over Congress Hall, what we now know as the flag for the State of Israel. (Jewish Virtual Library)
If so, our nation’s precious flag, brand, and symbol not only predates the fateful Independence Day of May 14, 1948 by decades and even centuries, but the concept of the flag of the State of Israel is millennia-old.
The tallit with its two blue stripes is donned in synagogues by the prayer leader, and it is this image that is the backdrop of our nation’s flag. The stripes represent the courage and audacity to lead and educate the world to a higher moral calling and a more peaceful future for all of humanity. Don’t believe me? Read our prophets, they gave us the branding for the flag of Israel, and although the stripes are subtle, they evoke and emote the message that Israel will be a leader among nations.
When God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants, He beckoned Abraham to take that promise and turn it into a blessing for all of humanity. The goal was always for this land and her people to be leaders of the world, proclaiming the values of goodness, truth, morality, kindness, peace, and holiness. The blue stripes are not just on the flag for style.
At the center of our flag features the Star of David. In the not too distant past, this symbol served as a mark of shame and was used to justify the singling-out, enslavement, and annihilation of millions of Jews in the Holocaust. There were German Jews in 1933 who beckoned their fellow Jews to wear the Star of David with pride, and they said:
April 1, 1933, can become the day of Jewish awakening and Jewish rebirth. If the Jews will it. If the Jews are mature and have greatness in them. If the Jews are not as they are represented to be by their opponents… It was intended as dishonor. Jews, take it up, the Shield of David, and wear it with pride!… (Juedische Rundschau, No. 27, April 4, 1933)
Unfortunately, their voices and lives were cut short a few years later. Once again, within living memory of the Holocaust where the yellow badge Jews were forced to wear caused humiliation and rejection, young Jews today are ashamed and frightened to display their own Star of David necklaces in public. We must not tolerate a reality where any Jew in the world must think twice before going out in public with the star and all it symbolizes around their neck.
75 years ago we swapped uniforms of stripes and a star for a flag of stripes and a star, the former worn in shame, the latter carried with pride.
On this Yom Ha’atzmaut, let the flag of the State of Israel serve as a call to action, a beckoning to all who identify and are inspired by its symbols:
Wave the striped and starred flag, carry its lessons, history, and vision with you everywhere you go!
Israel, you have earned your blue stripes and star, now it’s time to celebrate!
Happy 75th Birthday!