On the occasion of Israel's 62 Independence Day, by Noga Shavit, Minneapolis Community Shlicha.Ask 10 Israelis what is most “Israeli” to them and nine will tell you that it is the abrupt transition from Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day) to Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day). In 24 hours we move from tears of pain and longing to tears of joy. We mourn the fallen soldiers of Israel aware of the promise which the following day brings with it, and we celebrate our state having just being reminded of the price we pay for our sovereignty. It is an impossible transition, yet we do it, year after year, as this is what Israel is all about.
They say that 60 is the new 50, but even if not, modern Israel is a baby compared to other countries. At 62 Israel is a young state with the baggage of thousands of years of history and chapters filled with so many events that it makes your head spin. Cynics who tend to see the glass as half-empty would look at today’s Israel and comment on its flaws: the unstable coalition, the chaotic political system, the corruption, the brain drain, the bureaucracy. Some would say we reach out too much, others that we don’t reach out as much as we should. Some will complain that we are not Jewish enough; others that we are too Jewish. They all have a point. Israel is far from being perfect. But let us take a break from self-criticism and the urge to be so hard on ourselves, if only for a while, and be proud of what we have achieved so far.
I am a Sabra who was born and raised in Israel, yet I never took it for granted. I look around and see a vivid, thriving country with warm people who have no doubt in its right to exist. I see the Hebrew language, spoken and written as if it wasn’t dead for thousands of years; I see the kibbutzim, which almost went bankrupt, both financially and ideologically, reinventing themselves as flourishing communities. I see the vision of the gathering of the exiles in our schools and army bases; culture, which is so dynamic and surprising that you can hardly believe that we are a nation of only 7.5 million people; I see young Israelis enlisting to the army not just because they have to but because they want to. In fact, the number of young men seeking to serve as combat soldiers has recently reached an all-time record (this March 76 percent of recruits with high medical profiles asked to serve in combat units). I see an amazing bond between Jews who made Israel their home and Jews who made Israel their spiritual homeland; I see innovation, originality and directness, often combined with lots of chutzpa and some disrespect to authority and procedure. Most of all, I see what I consider as Israel’s greatest creation, a new type of Judaism, the one which is commonly defined as “Secular Judaism.” It is a fascinating phenomenon, one that combines Jewish values and traditions, Hebrew, and “Israeliness.” It is not comprehensive, far from it and I will be the first to admit that its Jewish components need to be further explored and appreciated; yet, it is a unique Israeli creature, one that could have only been invented in Israel.
Hatikvah, our national anthem, articulated our hope to be AM CHOFSHY B’ARTZENU - a free people in our land. Let me assure you: even at times where simple tasks like going on a bus were practically life threatening; even through the dreadful moments of the Second Lebanon War where our might seemed to be not as mighty; never, ever, did I feel anything but free to create, dream and be. We have achieved this precious freedom; it is upon all of us to protect and maintain it and moreover, to appreciate it.
I have no better way of concluding, but quoting a line from the personal reflections delivered by Captain Nadav, an IDF officer from an elite unit, who spoke to us when we gathered to commemorate Yom Hazikaron a couple of weeks ago. “I believe that no outside force can triumph over Israel as long as we protect our inner strength, the Strength of the Jewish people with its thousands of years of determination.” We are blessed to have people like Nadav. We are blessed to have thousands of years of determination. We are blessed to have Israel.