Kenneth Jacobson

This Yom Ha’atzmaut let’s be extra thankful

As the years pass and a country moves from its younger period to adulthood, there naturally is a waning of the spirit that motivated its residents to establish the state in the first place.

So was the case in Israel as it moved over the years from an economically needy entity to a sophisticated, high-tech nation. National spirit as reflected in Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations remained fairly high, but along with it came a complacency about the meaning of Israel.

October 7 and its aftermath have changed all that. One cannot ever forget that Israel reconstituted the Jewish state after 2000 years in exile at the lowest point in the history of the Jewish people. Six million Jews, two thirds of the Jews in Europe, had been murdered by the Nazis as the world stood by. After the Holocaust, it would not have been surprising if the Jewish people sunk into lethargy, potentially signaling the end of a long and glorious history.

Instead, with the resurrection of Jewish sovereignty in the historic homeland, hope, as reflected in the title of the nation’s national anthem, became the hallmark of the people.

Despite the suffering, despite the personal tragedies of so many who arrived in Israel after the Shoah, in many cases their entire families decimated, there now was a future that they could look to.

Over the years, with celebrations and commemorations of Israeli Independence Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day, the modern import of the Jewish state was kept alive. Naturally, however, a certain jadedness crept in as Israel established itself, as some of its Arab neighbors finally came to accept the Jewish state, and as the years passed.

And then came October 7 and what has followed. The massacre, the support that Hamas continues to receive, the huge increase in antisemitism around the world, particularly in the United States where Jews have felt freer and safer than anywhere else, and the surge in calls for the destruction of Israel, were a metaphoric kick in the stomach for Israelis and Jews around the world.

And so we come to this year’s celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut. On the one hand, there will undoubtedly be a more somber tone as long as hostages are being held, as long as Hamas is still around to spread its barbaric and genocidal ideology and to commit future atrocities, as long as antisemitism flourishes in circles that had been deemed friendly to Jews.

On the other hand, it is a time to realize once again in a visceral way, unfelt for many years, how much the existence of the state of Israel means to the Jewish people.

The legitimacy of this connection doesn’t solely depend on Jewish security; rather, it’s rooted in the everlasting connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. The formation of the nation was tied to the Holy Land. The survival of the people through 2000 years of exile and discrimination was kept alive by the aspiration of return to Zion. And the United Nations decision to partition the land, which was rejected by the Palestinians, was predicated on that history.

Now, however, it is the issue of the safety and security of the Jewish people that has come back to haunt us in a way that it hasn’t since the Holocaust. It is important first to keep things in perspective. While we are deeply concerned by the sharp rise in antisemitic activity around the world, Jewish communities and individuals must not give in to fear. In many countries around the world, particularly in the US, Jewish life is strong and thriving.

At the same time, the surge of antisemitism and violence against Jews in the Middle East and elsewhere is a reminder that the age-old desire to harm Jews is very much alive.

And so, let us cheer the existence of Israel on this Independence Day. Let us be thankful, even with all the terrible blunders that allowed October 7th to happen, that now unlike during the Shoah, the Jewish people are not powerless. It is Israel’s strength and ability to defend itself against its enemies that give meaning and substance to hopes for the future.

And let us cheer the many friends, political leaders and individuals around the world who understand the meaning of Israel and who support the only democracy in the Middle East against the Jew haters. We are not alone and, on this Yom Ha’atzmaut, we need to bring closer those who stand up against the haters.

Am Yisrael Chai!

About the Author
Kenneth Jacobson is Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
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