It is a Mitzvah to Celebrate Israel’s Birthday!
For American Jews, the High Holy Days is the time we often feel most connected.For many Israeli Jews, the time they feel most connected is during Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Holocaust Memorial Day and Israel’s Independence Day). In fact, in Israeli parlance these days are referred to as the “Secular High Holy Days.” Israelis revere these days with a secular holiness.
This week, we celebrated Israel’s 73rd birthday. Who would have imagined that three years after walking out of the gates of Auschwitz, with one third of our people murdered in the Holocaust, that three years later the Jewish People would raise a flag of Independence in the Land of Israel. The events of 1948 were nothing less than miraculous. The founding of the modern state of Israel is the most important achievement of the Jewish People in the last 2,000 years. There has been more cultural and literary creativity amongst the Jewish people since 1948 than in the previous 2,000 years. More Jewish songs, music, poetry and novels have been produced by the Jews in Israel than at anytime since the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The founding of the State of Israel has ushered in a renaissance of Jewish life and spirit through an unprecedented rate of Jewish intellectual and cultural achievements.
This accomplishment has sadly come at a price, a painfully high price. As of this Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) 23, 928 Israelis have paid with their lives to protect the Jewish people in the state of Israel. The Talmud teaches “Each person lost is the loss of an entire world.”
To put a human face on this, I want to share a story that happened to my family when we brought our oldest child to nursery school in Jerusalem seven years ago. In September on the first day of Gan (nursery school), 3-year-old Isaac showed up with his toy bulldozer in his hand. His teacher Ruchama told him that her 19-year-old son liked bulldozers too and was a driver in the Army. The following summer, during the 2014 war in Gaza, Ruchama’s son, Moshe, was shot and killed. On Israel’s Memorial Day, we stop to remember the sons and daughters who died defending our borders and our people. We pray our children and all children might grow up to play in peace and make friendships with others of different backgrounds. In the meantime, we honor and remember those who struggle to keep us safe. Yizkor. We remember.
So while we celebrate Israel’s independence, our joy is tempered by an acknowledgement of the painful price.
Psalm 128 speaks our hopes, “
May God bless us from Zion. May we live not just to see our children, but may we live to see our children’s children. And may we live to see peace upon Israel.” And may we say “Amen.”
Rabbi David Wilfond