As our community celebrates Yom Haatzmaut, we rejoice in the 70 year anniversary of the re-establishment of the Jewish State—the State of Israel.
On the day before Yom Haatzmaut, we remember all those who gave their lives to defend the state of Israel on Yom Hazikaron. The contrast between these two days is striking—but also quite meaningful. We remember and honor the sacrifices of the defenders of Israel and then we celebrate all that has been accomplished.
There are so many reasons that all of us can be proud and grateful to live during a time when there is a Jewish state—something our ancestors prayed for for 2,000 years. In a relatively short period of time, a Jewish State started as Theodore Herzl’s idea and was presented to the first Zionist Congress of 1897, a Jewish homeland was endorsed by Great Britain in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and finally, what is now a democratic, strong and prosperous state was established in 1948. It is an amazing place—a first world country, only 70 years old. Israel is our homeland and it is a haven for Jews.
Thousands of years ago, our prophets stated and we sing each Shabbat: “Ki mitzion tetze Torah ud’var Hashem Miyerushalyim” (“For from Zion shall come the Torah and the word of G-d from Jerusalem.”). These words have come true! Israel has not only become a center of Jewish learning but also an innovative marvel and a nation that contributes to Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) every day—through its technological and medical breakthroughs and its continuous missions to assist people in distress around the globe.
As I have noted in previous posts, Israel has been a part of my family’s everyday reality for my entire life. My mother was born in Ra’anana, near Tel Aviv and some of the surviving members of my father’s family made Aliyah right after the Shoah (a few others made it there just before). Fifty years ago, in 1968, when I was only 6 years old, I was lucky enough to take my first trip to Israel, around the time of Yom Haatzmaut. We spent over two months there that spring and summer. The time spent at my Grandparents’ home and touring Israel made an impression that resonates with me to this day.
Pride in Israel’s many accomplishments—and a passionate connection to it—were integral parts of our family life. Quite often, when we gathered around the dinner table, we would discuss current events in Israel, our concerns for Israel and our family and friends there. From a young age, I looked forward to our weekly editions of the The Jerusalem Post. We also had a chance to think about Yom Haatzmaut whenever we called home or gave out our phone number to someone else—because, amazingly, at a time when phone numbers were handed out randomly, our phone number in St. Louis was (and still is) XXX-XXX-1948!
Over the years, we traveled to Israel to see family and friends many times. Israel became—and remains—a second home. It is where I walk around with an immediate sense of comfort that is unlike any other place. I love walking the streets of Israel, listening to Hebrew spoken on the streets, on the radio and the TV. When I’m in Israel for the Jewish Holidays, I see the stores decorated with signs wishing everyone a חג שמח. Everyone rushes around as Shabbat and the Holidays approach– and a special sense of calm descends on the place and on us as the sun sets. My wife Suzanne and I have done our best to share these moments on trips to Israel with our sons and convey these feelings to them in our home. We have also worked to maintain our community’s strong connection to Israel and to strengthen ties between American Jews and Israelis.
All that said, I also realize that Israel, like America, is not a perfect place. There are, of course, some Israeli policies that I disagree with—but that will never mean that I will withdraw my passionate support for (or distance myself from) Israel or my Israeli friends and relatives. The Jewish people are like a big raucous family. We may disagree with each other from time to time but we must stay together.
Israel has been part of our people’s DNA for well over 3,000 years. As we celebrate this 70th Yom Haatzmaut, we must reaffirm and pass that connection forward—doing all we can to maintain the familial ties between Jews in the USA and in Israel (and all around the world). Even though there are issues of concern in the Jewish Community in America, in Israel and in the Middle East, there is so much more to be proud of!
On that note, let’s go out and enjoy this family simcha!
!חג העצמאות שמח