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Yom Ha’atzmaut

IN the US, many Americans raise the American flag on the front porch of their home for July 4. But many do not. For those who don’t, it is not a statement of any kind, but rather a passive patriotism or perhaps laziness. Lack of flag hanging certainly does not translate to a conflict with firing up the BBQ or watching fireworks. Hey, July 4 — everyone celebrates it, expressing gratitude for the country we live in. It is especially so for us Jews to feel gratitude for the amazing opportunities and freedoms that being Americans has given us.

Somehow, nothing is ever that simple in Israel. Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) in Israel is an outburst of unbridled joy and celebration. If anything, the flag-waving spirit is much stronger there than here in the US. The sense of Jewish history and swelling Jewish pride grows throughout the week that marks the triple national milestones of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and culminates in Yom Ha’atzmaut.

The main thoroughfares and boulevards are flanked by the white cotton fabric showing the blue star of David at its heart, flags waving in the air. Tiny shiny plastic ones are found on white sticks, firmly planted in the front window of most cars.

And yet. After 19 centuries of Jewish sovereignty absent  from our land, and 64 years since the declaration of the modern state of Israel, we are still fighting over our legitimacy and peace. But it is not just a political conflict with the enemies around us that Yom Ha’atzmaut reminds us of. It reminds us of internal conflict as well.

Even in my small, individual world, Yom Ha’atzmaut was never a simple celebratory day. There was always the conflict of whether to recite the Hallel prayer with or without a prefatory blessing. Meaning, do you recite the Hallel prayer as a formal prayer with a blessing preceding it, or is Hallel to be recited simply as a cluster of Psalms?

But the conflicts between the haredim and the Zionists in Israel is larger than that. Hallel is just a symbol. Meanwhile, it is interesting how somewhere the haredim and the liberals meet. Although coming from very different places — haredim believing a Jewish state is premature and does not reflect the Jewish tradition of  redemption for the Jewish people in the land of Israel, while for liberal leftists Israel is a slap in the face to Arab Palestinians who view the creation of the state of Israel as theft of their land — on some level both the haredim and the liberals reject the State of Israel and are uncomfortable with celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut.

IT’S true that much of history is the history of conquest. Almost every swath of land was taken from someone else at some time. This reality is taken for granted by most countries and civilizations and they somehow find a way to move on. Can you imagine anyone refusing a July 4 celebration, or for that matter a Thanksgiving feast, on the grounds that Americans stole their homeland from Native Americans? (I do not mean to justify or minimize the horrific killing of Native Americans in any way.)

Granted, it is not exactly an apt comparison, as the land of Israel is Biblically the land of the Jewish people. Unlike in America, the Jewish people were indigenous to the land of Israel (after the Cannanites), existing there in an independent Jewish commonwealth with a Jewish state, king, currency and language before the Arabs ever set foot and settled there. Granted, most of the Native American population was brutally wiped out in order to create America, and barely exists as a reminder of their first roots here.

But in Israel, the Arab Palestinians are not an echo of the past. As Israelis celebrate their day of joy, they might be passing an Arab Palestinian on the street and locking eyes with their enemy, for whom Yom Ha’atzmaut is an anathema.

I believe in the Jewish people in the land of Israel. But as I got older, I realize that Yom Ha’atzma’ut, with all the joy and celebrations, is something like on Pesach when we celebrate our victory over the Egyptians but still remove some drops of wine from the overflowing wine goblet. It’s that tricky place where we celebrate unapologetically with joy and memory, yet balance it out by the memory of the cost — yes, even the cost to our oppressors and tormentors.

So I do not identify with the extreme, liberal, leftist approach of some of shunning Yom Ha’atzmaut with shame and instead reaching out to Palestinian Arabs. But also, as I have gotten older, Yom Ha’atzmaut is not limited to my conflict of saying Hallel with or without a blessing, but to seeing  a kernel of traditional Jewish truth in the liberal approach; yet also seeing it as misguided in the way it is transformed into empathy for our enemies as the main idea, with the main idea of celebrating the miracle of Israel as marginalized, as negative.

Likewise, with the haredi point of view. Although I disagree with treating the creation of the Sate of Israel, as well as treating the State herself, with hostility, and as much as I feel an abiding love for Israel, I don’t see the State of Israel’s story as being so simple.

Is the State of Israel the greatest G-d-given Jewish miracle of modern Jewish history? Of course. Am I filled with Jewish Israeli pride and would fight for my country and homeland no matter what? Absolutely. Have I grown up a little and and see life and Yom Ha’atzmaut with a lot more complexity? For sure.

Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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