Sunday, May 8, 2011

Israel Independence Day 5771 - Yom HaAtzma'ut 2011

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 . 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.

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