I think we took this picture in the evening during our first experience of the transition from Yom HaZikaron to Yom Ha’Atzmaut – the transition from the solemn day of national remembrance in Israel to commemorate all the soldiers and people who lost their lives during the struggle to defend the State of Israel to the day celebrating Israel’s independence.
Now, eight years later, as we reflect on another Day of Remembrance and transition to our 75th year of Independence, I find the significance growing on me year by year. As I meet more and more people and interact with those who have known and lost loved ones, as I see the celebrations of those who are proud of what this country has achieved in 75 short years – I appreciate how important these two days are to the people and state of Israel.
Today I watched my oldest son leave home to go to Jerusalem to stand next to the grave of a soldier who died fighting to protect all the people of Israel. No matter what their religion, race, gender or political beliefs – he gave his life to protect everyone. When my son stands by this grave today, he stands by the grave of this young man not knowing who he was or what he believed. Was the young man religious? Was he right or left? What race or ethnic group was he from? It does not matter. He goes because it is his duty and because he is honoring a fellow soldier who passed away defending all of us.
David Ben Gurion said, “Without moral and intellectual independence, there is no anchor for national independence.” What I think most feel he was referring to was that without these values, a nation may become vulnerable to external pressures and lose its ability to make its own decisions and pursue its own interests – building a strong foundation of moral and intellectual values will ensure the long-term success and sustainability of a nation.
Yet I don’t think this statement should only apply to external pressures. Internally, we as a people need to foster an air of both moral and intellectual independence. We are a nation that prides itself on a heritage as a moral and just people, a people of great learning and innovation. Yes, we are not perfect. We have many faults and issues as we strive to navigate living in a country that has very unique challenges. And yet this country was established on the back of both the great striving to live as a free and proud nation and the horror of the destruction in Europe. A people that had themselves faced great persecution and vowed – “Never again!”. We wanted to create a country of tolerance, togetherness and prosperity.
As I reflect on these events it helps me to understand that we have far more that brings us together than that divides us. We are a small country with a small population, and we all need each other to thrive and prosper and to be safe from those who would seek to harm us. At the moment, we all feel that we live in a deeply divided country. We are torn apart by those who would seek to divide us and tear us apart on all sides. My hope is that we reflect on these two days to strive to come together and to do the right thing and not be pulled apart by political, ideological or theological differences. Let us disagree but resolve our differences with both moral and intellectual honesty. As we enter our 75th year, my dream is to live in a country where we are tolerant of all people regardless of their religion, ethnicity or political views.