Yom Ha’Atzamaut (Israeli Independence Day) is upon us: this April 15-16th, the 5th of Iyaar, marks the State of Israel’s 65th anniversary. In Israel this date has entered the Jewish calendar, its commemoration embedded in the Jewish, lunar, year bringing a cyclical period of emotion and significance. Yom HaShoah (holocaust remembrance day); Yom HaZicharon (memorial day) & Yom Ha’Atzmaut, these are our Israeli Days of Awe. If the Jewish People were commanded in the times of the Temple to make the journey to Jerusalem on the 3 “foot” festivals, so should the Jewish People of today make the pilgrimage on this modern triumvirate to experience Jewish nationhood at its most powerful, even metaphysical.
Yom HaShoah has gained in momentum and precedence in recent years. No matter that no restaurants, bars and clubs may open, or that TV and radio only streams Holocaust content, there is a national awareness of Shoah more than ever before. Maybe it’s due to the fact that so many young Israelis visit Poland and the camps; maybe that we are acutely aware that in a generation we will be without survivors; and maybe that the oppressive weight of our history seems to only grow with time. For me it is as we move further from the Shoah, as we get older, as individuals, as a State, the Shoah gets younger. For the testimony that we heard in the 1960s, in the 70s and 80s, was that of people who had experienced, fought and survived these atrocities as adults. These survivors are no longer around to give testimony, and by default we hear each passing year from survivors who experienced the Shoah younger and younger in their lives. And I sat 3 years ago in my car, my heart breaking as I listened to the testimony of an old Hungarian woman who gave voice to herself as a young child desperately clinging to her bear as she wondered when she would see her parents again. And I turned to my window and saw a taxi driver in the car next to me, his face as tear-stained as my own.
We also cry on Yom HaZicharon (the 24 hours preceding Yom Ha’Atzmaut) standing silent and alone in a sea of togetherness as the 2 minute siren sounds across the whole country; uniting the pain of loss and sharing the burden across a whole nation. We walk past too many graves of soldiers who have remained young forever as their parents and loved ones age with one hand on their headstones. We wear a sticker charging us to “remember” above a picture of the Blood of the Maccabees, our national flower of mourning. And we do remember. Even those we never knew.
And through the catharsis of Yom HaZicharon we exhaust our endless tears and are able to raise the flag from half-mast and burst into the celebration of Yom Ha’Atzmaut. A celebration that is difficult to articulate as we have spent the preceding 354 days cursing every aspect of our precious country. “What’s good here? What’s good here?! Nothing’s good here! But its ours!”. And its wonderful. So wonderful that it’s a shame to sully it with our reality. And so for a day we hike and party and grill and make no criticism and recognize no flaw, and raise no “if only…” or “but what about…”Because we have the rest of the year to do that, and we only have one day to come together and say “isn’t this wonderful?” And it is. Wonderful.
But if we do need help in deciding what we are actually celebrating, let it be this: the State of Israel’s greatest achievement. Im not referring to the blossoming of the desert, or the first Hebrew city of Tel Aviv, or the old-new land which integrates ancient and modern, but to the Israeli. The People who inhabit this almost uninhabitable place. For the creation of the State of Israel gave birth in turn to a new Jew for whom sovereignty is its mother tongue.
The Israeli, who curses in the language of the prophets, who barters in the currency of the Temple, who creates a world of associations that span millennia and who often has no awareness that there is anything remarkable about this at all. The Israeli, who shares a common narrative and an immediate heritage with compatriots from all 5 continents and every shade of skin color, despite having only been reunited for a few decades. The Israeli, who has soaked in Jewish metaphor until his Hamsa has pruned-up. Who believes himself to be the direct heir to King David, Bar Kochba and the Maccabees, despite not knowing the family history in the intervening years. The Israeli, who has made so many mistakes, yet holds the keys to the solution deep within. A resilient, aggressively tender people, so hard to like but easy to love; so weary and cynical, but in a second naïve and fresh faced again. A people that created the State of Israel so that they themselves could be created anew.
This Yom Ha’Atzmaut let’s celebrate Israel through our hearts and souls, and let’s celebrate her greatest achievement. Because for the last 65 years the most wonderful addition to the Jewish global family has been the Israeli.