I sent my daughter off to school on Yom Haatzmaut earlier this week wearing a blue skirt, white tshirt, and Tzahal sweatshirt, with a smile on her face and a song in her heart as she and the entire school sang Hatikvah together on the steps outside. I smiled and laughed, and my own heart beat faster, as it does every time I hear Hatikvah, watch a Tekes (IDF ceremony) or listen to the pioneering songs my mother used to sing.
I thought of the country and people I love, and I thought about what it is going through these days. I wondered –
Is the glass half full? Is it half empty?
These are important questions, especially when applied to the current moment in Israeli life. The answer will motivate action and passion. There is no doubt that Israelis and all of those around the world who identify with her must reckon with the challenges this moment presents to us – to our values, to our practical considerations of how to advocate, to our preconceptions of what our Israeli sisters and brothers think like, feel like, or vote like.
And yet, I believe that though we must grapple with them, these are simply the wrong questions and the wrong paradigm for this day, for Yom Haatzmaut. I believe that this celebration of 75 years of Independence, rebirth, and growth is also a celebration of the fact that after 2000 years of exile we have a glass to fill! A strong glass, a big glass that is a prism for all of the diverse elements of Israeli society and Jewish life.
I think of my Great-Grandfather, Zev Wolf Rosenblum. He was a businessman in Krakow, from a long line of Rabbinic and community leaders. He was a devout man, and also a man of the world. He represented the Jewish community on Krakow’s city council. He saw all of the changes in the world in the early part of the 20th century. When he had an opportunity to flee eastward in the first days of the war, he sent my grandfather and his family, but he decided to stay and take care of his community. He didn’t survive the war.
What would he have made of this miracle?
Of the economic powerhouse Israel has become?
Of the strong and capable military Israel has deployed to protect its citizens and Jews from around the world?
Of the arts, science and technology that have evolved Israel into a world leader?
Of Israel’s capacity to provide rescue and relief across the globe, from Turkey to Haiti, from Japan to Miami, Nepal to Chad, Burkina Faso to Kosovo, to New Orleans?
Of the blossoming of Jewish scholarship on a scale unimagined in Jewish history?
Of the challenges, I think I know what he would have said – You are the inheritors of 100 generations of yearning. Sit down with your sisters and brothers and make it work. Don’t look to be a winner or freeze for fear of being labeled a loser. YOU HAVE ALREADY WON WHAT WE ONLY DREAMED OF! Fill up that glass, as high as you can, but do it together.
And of the wonders, I think he would have said what my late sister Sari always said to her science students – ‘Ma Rabu Maasecha, Hashem!’ ‘Almighty! How great are your works!’ He would have recognized the inspiration and intervention that created Israel, the sacrifices made by so many to defend it, the sweat, toil, and tears of its founding generations, and the innovation a Jewish people sovereign in their homeland could provide to the world.
It is amazing that we have a glass to fill. It remains for us to fill it with generosity of both resources and spirit, with determination to find what unites us, and with that emotional connection that makes us weep or sing when we hear the verses of Hatikva.
Od Lo Avda Tikvatenu
We have never lost our hope.