What does Yom Haatzmaut mean to proudly identified American Jews? Is it purely an Israeli holiday which we celebrate vicariously as allies / co-religionists, or is the creation of Israel something to celebrate even if my personal values do not include ever living there?
Yom Ha’atzma’ut is a wonderful holiday which celebrates the creation of a uniquely Jewish State. Because of Israel’s importance to the world Jewish community I see it as much more than a purely Israeli holiday; it is something that Jews across the world should and do celebrate. Being Jewish is about living in multiple civilizations. We are more than a religious tradition – we are a civilizational and cultural community. A person does not need to see themselves living in Israel in order to appreciate and celebrate Yom Ha’atzma’ut.
I am a proudly identified American Jew. I love living in the United States and although I have visited and spent long periods studying in Israel several times I don’t envision picking up and moving there. While I think that each person experiences moments and celebrations in different ways, Yom Ha’atzma’ut has always been a moving holiday for me. It represents something that is truly miraculous; a Jewish homeland in the place of our ancestors after thousands of years! I recognize that Israel is not a perfect nation but I believe most Jews can agree that Israel is a force for good in the world. Yom Ha’atzma’ut is a chance to celebrate that goodness with all people who are part of the Jewish civilization and to talk with members of our community about the Jewish values of tziyonut (peoplehood) and ahavat yisra’el (a love of Israel) – particularly young Jews who grew up in a time of Israel’s relative security.
In the end, I can’t tell you how you should celebrate or why you personally should feel moved to join in the festivities. But I do encourage you to look for ways in which the holiday can be more than an Israeli holiday which we celebrate vicariously. I believe we owe it to all the Jews who felt a calling to go home and build a new country to come together as a community and celebrate their achievements and honor their memories.
As American Jews, we are proud and engaged citizens of the United States. We are loyal to America, pay taxes to her, support and often have fought in her armed forces, often giving our lives for her. See, e.g., the website of the Jewish War Veterans of America at www.jwv.org . Many Jews have served America as public office holders, government administration professionals, and military professionals. We celebrate America’s holidays as our own, because they are own: Thanksgiving as a day to thank G-d for bringing us to these shores of a New World, far away from the continents of blood libels, Crusades, and Inquisitions. Columbus Day with thanks that he took that wrong turn and found this place. Veterans Day with gratitude for all who have fought under our flag for freedom. Presidents’ Day to celebrate a tradition of American political leadership that consistently has affirmed our place in America. Memorial Day to remember our fallen soldiers who fought so that America could be safe for liberty. Independence Day for marking the historic break from tyranny and the pursuit of liberty. Thus, our commitment to the country of America is primary and all-engrossing.
At the same time, we also are part of an eternal people, the Jewish People, with our eyes and hearts always turned to Tzion – to Zion – to the heart of Jerusalem where G-d set His eternal dwelling place on the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem. For two thousand years of bitter Jewish Exile, through dispersion and persecution, we never abandoned our bond with and yearning for Zion. In our daily prayers, we faced and still face towards the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem. Three times daily, we prayed and still pray for G-d’s return to Jerusalem. After meals that we eat with bread, we recited and still recite our prayer that He rebuild Jerusalem speedily in our days. For two thousand years, we sat and still sit on floors, weeping bitter tears by candlelight as we remembered Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av Night and Day, mourning and fasting for a return to the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem and for restoration of the Jewish People to the land that G-d promised Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Jacob). The Holy Land, then, is part of our core heritage as Jewish People, and we cannot be separated from the Land of Israel and our connection to our forebears who lived and died there. Indeed, many proud American Jews, like Jews all over the world, arranged through the centuries, and still arrange, to be laid to rest in Israel after a full and rich life.
When the State of Israel was reestablished in 1948, that event marked an historically awesome and momentous event in Jewish faith. After nearly two thousand years of never ever giving up the claim and the hope, we saw its fulfillment begun: a Jewish Commonwealth reborn in the land we spiritually never had left. By 1967, when three Arab armies based in Egypt, Syria, and Jordan forced Israel to fight for her survival in a fearsome and ultimately miraculous defensive war that resulted with Israel’s liberation of East Jerusalem and the reunification of the City of Jerusalem as the temporal capital of the State of Israel and as the Eternal Spiritual Capital of the Jewish People, our lives as Jews everywhere were changed forever.
Israel’s independence, then, is part of our essence as Jews. Militarily, our loyalties are to America. Politically, to America. Economically, to America. Spiritually, even as Catholics throughout the world turn to the Vatican and as Moslems make their haj to Mecca, our eyes and hearts turn to Jerusalem and to Israel. We celebrate her independence as our own. We send money to support her institutions. We lobby our elected officials to take steps to offset those who would endanger her. We visit her, again and again. We send our children to learn there, whether at a yeshiva seminary for a year after high school, or for a Birthright trip, or an Aish program in spiritual discovery, or any of scores of other programs. We learn the ancient Hebrew language with modern inflections, pray almost exclusively in Hebrew, and we visit the holy sites in Bethlehem (where Rachel is buried), Shechem (Nablus, where Joseph lies), and of course Hebron (the resting place of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah). Some of us plan our retirements to include significant time in Israel. So many of us, by now, have family living in Israel – cousins, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, grandchildren, and others – who not only speak pure Hebrew but with Israeli accents.
Israel Independence Day, then, is in good measure our celebration, too. We are invested in Israel – spiritually, emotionally, historically through our ancestors, materially. We take pride in Israel’s strides and advances, concern ourselves with her evolution, and plan our lives with the knowledge and understanding that we live in the most miraculous of times, an era that our grandparents and theirs barely could have imagined – an age and a time when many millions of Jews have returned to live in a Jewish country in Israel, with borders open to Jews everywhere so that we never again need be a people with nowhere to flee from persecution. Ours is the miracle era with the city of Jerusalem reunited and now with many hundreds of thousands more pouring into and rebuilding the cities of Judea and Samaria in the heart of our patrimony where Judaism all began. Regardless of whether a particular American Jew personally ever will set foot in Israel, much less live there, the day of Israel’s independence – Yom HaAtzma’ut – is a day for each and every American Jew to celebrate heartily and gratefully, within our hearts, among our families, as part of our communities, and as an eternal Jewish people whose spark never will cease and to whose eternal existence the modern State of Israel bears existential witness.
Yom Ha-Atzmaut (literally, “The Day of Independence”) commemorates the founding of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. Its Hebrew calendar date is the 5th of Iyar, the day after Yom Ha-Zikaron (Day of Remembrance of those killed defending the State of Israel).
Generally speaking, Yom Ha-Atzmaut is one of those times when Jews across America of different denominations and ideologies join together to celebrate the day, as a way of showing solidarity with the State of Israel. After 2000 years of galut (“exile”), dispersion, and oppression, culminating in the severe trauma of the Holocaust, Yom Ha-Atzmaut marks a time in history when Jews know there is a place they can live, where they are free to speak their own language, create their own culture, keep their own religious traditions and values, and follow their own dreams without fear of a ruling nation.
In some prayer books (e.g., Siddur Sim Shalom), there is in fact an additional paragraph added to the Amidah – the central Jewish prayer – in commemoration of Yom Ha-Atzmaut. This paragraph shares the same opening phrase as those inserted for Purim and Hanukkah: “We thank You for the miraculous deliverance, for the heroism, and for the triumphs in battle of our ancestors in other days, and in our time.”
The placement of this paragraph in many prayer books reflects two important ideas: a) that God’s will and presence continuously unfolds in history and creation, exemplified by what happened on Yom Ha-Atzmaut; and b) that Yom Ha-Atzmaut, like Purim and Hanukkah, is an historical expression of the unique relationship between God and the Jewish people. And this relationship extends to all Jewish people, no matter where they live.
It is true that many Jews in America would never even dream of emigrating from America to Israel. Indeed, the Jews who live in America today are the most fortunate, most affluent, wealthy, and most safe and secure Jews who have ever existed on the planet. That fact, however, does not erase the bond all Jews share vis a vis our collective history and ideals. (Nor does it speak to what the future will hold for Jews).
In sum, throughout history, Jews have prayed for Israel, yearned to return to Israel, and have remained connected to Israel by the calendar and holidays (which are based on the seasonal/agricultural cycles in Israel). Moreover, Israel is not merely a geographical locale for Jews, but a tangible symbol that represents a land of profound historical significance. But more than that, Israel symbolizes Jewish people as a whole; it symbolizes their values, their spiritual energy, and their hopes for the future. For Jews to reclaim the Land of Israel as a Jewish State (and by an international vote from the United Nations!) with its own flag and government is indeed an historical miracle of transcendent proportions that calls all Jews around the world to sing, dance, and shout “Am Yisrael Chai!”
Question:What does Yom Haatzmaut mean to proudly identified American Jews? Is it purely an Israeli holiday which we celebrate vicariously as allies / co-religionists, or is the creation of Israel something to celebrate even if my personal values do not include ever living there?
Yom Haatzmaut, or Israel’s Independence Day, is being celebrated for the sixty-third time today, the 5th day of Iyar, corresponding this year to May 9.(In 1948, the 5th day of Iyar corresponded to May 14.)The creation and existence of the state of Israel is the fulfillment of a two thousand year old vision that each self-identifying Jew can and should celebrate.
Israel has been a home to oppressed refugees, and she has been a place where the potential exists to realize all of the aspirations mentioned in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, a model of a democracy that could lead the world in prestige and dignity.
But more than that: She has grown into an economic powerhouse, a biblical treasure trove of historical and spiritual significance, and – this is the real value to American as well as other Jews, the ‘kicker,’ as it were – a resource for the strengthening of Jewish values and identity of Jews all over the world.
It is the opinion of some Jews that Israel has not always lived up to her potential; of course, who among us does?!How much the more so, then, do we have the responsibility to love and support Israel, learn about her, understand her finery and her flaws, and continue to explore the meaning of the land and its relationship to us who live outside of Israel.In that way, we can help her to live up to her and our expectations, and she can become that ‘beacon of light to all nations’ that Isaiah spoke about (42:6).
As a people that was hounded and hurried from land after land, and persecuted and oppressed as a minority, we can honor those who have made their lives in Israel, and those who support her from lands in other parts of the globe.There is a high likelihood in our era that not all Jews will move to Israel.Israelis feel fine with that.But with that particular set of realities, that is, with equally powerful Israeli and Diaspora Jewish communities, there needs to be developed the right kind of relationship that allows both communities to support one another in both their Jewish and secular missions.
The ‘prayer for Israel’ that many Jews say each week when reading the Torah calls the land “reishit tzmichat g’ulateinu,” or in English “the beginning of the blossoming of our redemption.”In this sense, she is a beginning for what can be a beautiful future if and when she receives the support that she needs.This must come primarily from Jews in America and elsewhere.I invite you to make a commitment to visit, to learn, and to support Israel.What a great way to celebrate her Independence Day!
Copyright 2020 all rights reserved. Jewish Values Online
N O T I C E
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN ANSWERS PROVIDED HEREIN ARE THOSE OF THE INDIVIDUAL JVO PANEL MEMBERS, AND DO NOT
NECESSARILY REFLECT OR REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF THE ORTHODOX, CONSERVATIVE OR REFORM MOVEMENTS, RESPECTIVELY.