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Shabbat Tekuma: From Destruction to Rebirth

Friday April 29, 2022 – כ״ח נִיסָן תשפ״ב

Over coffee at a Jerusalem café more than a decade ago a well-known rabbi, writer, and academic, turned to me and said “Y’know, the problem with the young generation today is that they just don’t know what it was like to have been through the Holocaust, and don’t remember the fear leading up to the Six-Day War. That’s why it’s hard for these young North American students to connect with Israelis, as so much of our consciousness here comes with the underlying memory and pervasive mentality of the Shoah. And, if that’s not enough, every aspect of life here was somehow affected by the Six-Day War.”

“But, is that really what we want?” I asked. “Do we want our young people to feel the Holocaust and the perpetual existential fears? Wasn’t Israel created so that we wouldn’t have to feel like victims; so that one day we wouldn’t live with constant existential fear? Shouldn’t we be glad that the young generation has grown up in a world that was far enough removed from the Shoah that they only know about it from history, and with an Israel that appears to them more of a Goliath than a David?”

While one generation idolized Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan in the movie adaptation of Leon Uris’ Exodus, this generation looks to the quagmire entanglement that Ari Issacharoff and Lior Raz portray in Fauda.

So, no! They don’t remember despite our constant reminders, haranguing, and guilt-tripping. And even though a relatively high percentage of people remember the Holocaust as important for Jewish identity[1], playing the victim is not going to work if we want young Jews – both Diaspora and Israeli – to feel connected to and a sense of identification with Israel, Zionism, and Jewish Peoplehood – despite reports of record-high American antisemitism this year.

This discussion is playing out this week. Yesterday we commemorated Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) and next week we remember Israel’s fallen on Yom HaZikaron and celebrate its 74 years of independence on Yom HaAtzmaut.

This Shabbat, between Yom HaShoah and Yom HaAtzmaut has been designated as a “special” Shabbat coined “Shabbat Tekumah” – “The Shabbat of Revival.” This “revival” represents the dramatic turn from the tragedy of the Holocaust to the realization of the dream of a Jewish state echoing the ancient paradigm of disaster to renewal thus creating meaningful national and theological moments as we mark modern events.

Israeli Reform Rabbi Mordechai Rotem suggests that these seven days between Yom HaShoah and Yom Haatzmaut be juxtaposed with the ten days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur thus serving a similar purpose to the Yamim HaNoraim that we call“Shivat Yemai Teudah,” (“Seven Days of Bearing Witness.”) He explains:

“During the Seven Days of Bearing Witness the nation of Israel needs to, as a community, examine themselves, check from year to year how much they are succeeding in fulfilling the destiny that has fallen to them, their mission, the legacy of death of the Holocaust, and the legacy of life of Independence Day…[in which]the nation of Israel engages in introspection and self-reflection about how they are measuring up to this destiny that stands before them: to build the future of the nation of Israel. These Seven Days of Bearing Witness need to apply both to the individual and, especially, to society and its institutions, the public institutions..”

This week is our opportunity to reflect on a collective and national level undergoing a collective Heshbon HaNefesh. That said, I want to state without hesitation that the State of Israel is a tremendous success story.

Most remarkable – beyond the building of a physical infrastructure and technological, agricultural, and scientific innovations – is the creation of a modern Jewish public culture that reinvented a New Jew and a New Judaism that lives in Jewish time, space, and according to Jewish values. This is at the core of my Zionism.

As Zionists, we largely cling to the teaching of Pirkei Avot 3:1:

“דַּע מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ”

“Know from where you come, and where you are going…”

In order to appreciate the magnitude of Israel today, one must pay homage to the struggles and sufferings of yesterday. We are a people who remember, and our future is deeply informed by our past. Our modern and ancient calendars mandate us to remember our story before we can celebrate. We understand our place in history along a spectrum of past, present, and future, which provides context, nuance, and complexity in approaching our current reality.

However, that is not the view one hears today in many progressive circles. The celebration and accolades of the Jewish State’s successes and accomplishments are sullied by Israel’s 55-year military rule over territory conquered in 1967. Many in the liberal and far-left camp standardized the term “apartheid” to describe the situation in the West Bank, and often label anyone who offers legitimate criticism and counterarguments as an apartheid-sympathizer. In its 74 years, Israel has become the 3rd rail, taboo, and the litmus test determinant of one’s progressive/leftist bona fides.

There are those who now say that there is no nuance, and really very little complexity at all. Israel should be seen in black and white, good vs evil. Calls for context, nuance, and complexity are fig leaves and subtle attempts to mollify those who raise their voices against injustices. Connecting the Holocaust with Israeli independence is an attempt to remind the world of what was done to us, thereby obfuscating the harsh reality under which Palestinians live in the West Bank and perpetuating our status as victims in order to not be branded as victimizers.

This is a brutal and harsh criticism that leaves no room for retort or rational discourse.

As a progressive Zionist, allow me to suggest the following:

  1. The State of Israel was not a “consolation prize” given by the U.N. and the international community to the Jewish people out of sympathy after being the victim of genocide and the worst crime against humanity in modern history. This characterization of the Jewish State ignores the ancient connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and the modern Zionist enterprise that sought to return an exiled and oppressed people to our ancestral homeland. Israel’s Declaration of Independence states:

“The Nazi Holocaust, which engulfed millions of Jews in Europe, proved anew the urgency of the reestablishment of the Jewish state, which would solve the problem of Jewish homelessness by opening the gate to all Jews and lifting the Jewish people to equality in the family of nations.”

  1. National self-determination is a recognized human right. Sadly, Israel has had to invoke this right to justify its claims to statehood. No other nation has to remind the world of this basic right. It behooves us all to recognize that just as we Jews have an undeniable right to national self-determination, so do the Palestinians.
  2. The Palestinians are not “paying for the Holocaust,” as many contend. It is not the case that the world granted the Jews a state because it felt overriding guilt and sympathy. Serious scholars concur that politics, not morality, motivated support for the Jewish state’s creation. In the establishment of Israel, guilt and sympathy played a minor role, if at all. Israeli leaders evoke the Holocaust, however, when it comes to Israel’s security. We still have survivors among us and eight decades later we’re still reeling from the collective trauma of this event. Furthermore, the world does not really take seriously the despotic leaders, such as the Iranians, who openly threaten to annihilate the Jewish State.
  3. If we play the ‘Holocaust card,’ we have a moral obligation to invoke our own suffering for universal purposes. Israel is rightly joining the cause in support of Ukrainian refugees, but should also be an international voice advocating on behalf of stateless nations and victims of persecution the world round – including the Palestinians.
  4. If Israel looked to the world to be admitted in 1948 to the “family of nations” it, along with world Jewry, should advocate for others to join as well.

What do the Palestinians want? Far be it for me to opine on this question, as I do not speak for them and that question is as arbitrary and meaningless as asking “What do Jews Want?” However, polling shows that Palestinians remain split on whether a successfully negotiated two-state solution should “end the conflict with Israel and open up a new chapter in Palestinian history” or, in contrast, whether the conflict “should not end, and resistance should continue until all of historic Palestine is liberated.”

Sadly, Palestinian West Bank support for peace following a negotiated two-state solution has dwindled steeply since 2018. As of 2020, 40 percent of Gazans and 26 percent of West Bank Palestinians believe that a negotiated two-state solution should end the conflict.

What do we learn from Independence?

We Jews have agency and can control our fate and destiny, that we can create a revived culture, make the desert bloom, and be a light unto the nations. We learn that our ancient religion can be relevant and inspiring in a modern and contemporary way, and through our own national story, we can make the world a better place. Israel can and should take this moment to look in the mirror and face the inconvenient truths that are holding it back.

As North American Jews, we can take this opportunity to celebrate and learn,.to celebrate a place where our religious holidays are national holidays; where the Hebrew language is a basic part of daily life; and where Jews reinvent what it means to be Jewish on a national scale. As we, in North America imagine and envision what it means to be Jewish in an increasingly individualistic, diverse, and universalist society, Israel offers us examples to connect with Jewish life, culture, tradition, and wisdom, and to struggle with the moral and ethical dilemmas that come with sovereignty.

Thinking about the lament of one generation towards another leads to bigger questions. No, this generation does not know what it was like to go through the Holocaust and is growing up with much less of a sense of collective trauma. Can they empathize with those who have and can those who live with trauma acknowledge the suffering and the experience of others?  As we prepare to bow our heads in mourning for the high price so many paid for us to have a Jewish State, let us exalt their memories and offer our gratitude for their ultimate sacrifice, and make room in our hearts and minds to apply the lessons of that sacrifice, of strength and security, of imagination and dreaming, of empathy and care for the other.

And let us celebrate everything that has been created and forge on to create the next chapter.

 

Shabbat Tekumah Shalom!

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2021/05/11/jewish-identity-and-belief/

 

About the Author
Rabbi Josh Weinberg is the Vice President for Israel and Reform Zionism for the URJ, and President of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. He was ordained from the HUC-JIR Israeli Rabbinic Program in Jerusalem, and is currently living in New York.
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