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.
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).
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!