Rachelli Prawer
More in love with my land and my people every day

What is in a flag?

The flag currently flown on my front fence, as part of my settlement's "a flag for every house" initiative. (courtesy)
The flag currently flown on my front fence, as part of my settlement's "a flag for every house" initiative. (courtesy)

The two triangles of the Magen David face opposite directions. But they interlock to create something bigger than themselves. Let’s remember that lesson.

 וְחָנ֖וּ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אִ֧ישׁ עַֽל־מַחֲנֵ֛הוּ וְאִ֥ישׁ עַל־דִּגְל֖וֹ לְצִבְאֹתָֽם:” (במדבר א:נב)”

“The children of Israel shall encamp troop by troop, each under his own flag land according to their divisions.”  (Bamidbar 1:52)

I’ve always loved the Israeli flag. So much meaning is contained in a few simple lines of blue on a white background.

The ancient Magen David – literally shield of David – comprised of skyward- and earthward-facing triangles, hints at the potential of combining literal diametric opposites to create something new and beautiful. The simple stripes represent those found on a tallit (prayer shawl), and the blue colour symbolises the tchelet (blue colour) of the tzitzit strings, which keep G-d in our hearts and minds daily:

(מנחות מ”ג ע”ב)“ר’ מאיר אומר… שהתכלת דומה לים וים דומה לרקיע ורקיע לכסא הכבוד”

“Rabbi Meir says… that the tchelet is like the [colour of the] sea, and the sea is like the [colour of the] sky, and the sky is like [the colour of] the Heavenly Throne.” (Babylonian Talmud, Menachot 43b)

In summary, our flag represents our Judaism.

It’s also a slap in the face to those in more recent history who used the Magen David to single us out for hate, humiliation and ridicule. In a classic illustration of Jewish chutzpah, we take the ‘Jewish star’, the very symbol the Nazis used to mark us, and place it on our national flag.

“The people of Israel live,” it declares, “despite your best efforts.”

Since I made aliya, I’ve enjoyed seeing the flag flown frequently (much more frequently than I ever saw the Australian flag while living in Australia), but especially in the month of May, around Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), when it features prominently. Flags are flown along highways, on the fences of houses and apartment buildings and are attached to car windows. ‘Flag dances’ have a dedicated term in Hebrew (‘Daglanut’) and are a common event at Yom HaAtzmaut celebrations. A flag parade is a major hallmark of Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) celebrations in the city.

So I experienced a major case of dissonance when I left the gate of my settlement in Gush Etzion on October 13 for the first time since the start of the war for a solemn errand to collect my daughter’s school books from her classroom. The roads were very empty, and the army presence was palpable.

But the flags. They were everywhere. Flown at each deserted bus stop, the gate of each settlement and all along the highway.

It felt viscerally wrong. Why were the flags flying in October?

The flags that previously caused me to feel simple, quiet joy and pride to be living in a Jewish state in Israel, as my forbearers dreamed to, now triggered a complicated assortment of emotions.

On October 13, I felt no simple joy in my heart. Like my neighbours, I was shocked, horrified and devastated. Seeing the flags, usually a symbol of joy, cemented the wrongness of the situation. The flags reminded me, again and again with each one I passed: things are not right. They still do.

The other major change in the national landscape is the slogan plastered everywhere from highway billboards to packets of tissues: “ביחד ננצח” – “United, we will win”. Though the motto is uplifting, and as a society many of us try to remember and live by its message, it too, is a constant reminder: we are at war.

Despite the view taken by the media, and the apparent dysfunction and disunity of official leaders, Israeli society is united as we have never experienced before. It is unfortunate that it takes tragedy for us to remember that in addition to a common history, we share a common destiny. But we only need to look at the number of people “נקראים אל לדגל” (literally “called to the flag”, a Hebrew idiom meaning to being called up for army service), both in an official capacity in the IDF and unofficially on the home front, to understand that in the most difficult times, when the world seems to have largely abandoned us, we can still rely on each other.

The two triangles of the Magen David face opposite directions. But they interlock to create something bigger than themselves, something that represents us and what we value most.

We are in for a long ride, but we are in it together.

A Star of David drawn by armored vehicles in the Golani brigade to remember their fallen, in Gaza City, November 17, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Let’s try and remember the lesson of the flag: that in spite of – because of – our differences, we should stand united, and together, make something beautiful.

Learn more about the fascinating history of the Israeli flag.

About the Author
Rachelli is a doctor and currently works as a freelance medical writer. She moved to Israel from Australia 7 years ago, and currently lives in the beautiful Judean hills of Gush Etzion with her husband and 3 children.
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