On Tuesday night, Israel begins its celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut, our 72nd Independence Day. Seventy-two years ago, the British Mandate over the Holy Land expired, and the last British soldiers left its shores.
Israel’s neighbors were not happy about the possibility of a Jewish nation emerging in their midst. And yet, despite the serious threat of war by surrounding Arab nations, David Ben-Gurion, who became Israel’s first prime minister, declared the birth of the modern State of Israel. It was a statement: for the first time in nearly two millennia, the Jewish people were a free people in their ancient homeland. And while a difficult war ensued, Israel miraculously persevered. Seventy-two years later, Israel is a thriving nation, a leader in medicine and technology, and a source of blessing to the world.
An Act of God
Most years, Israelis celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut much like I celebrated July 4 when I was growing up in America. We gather in parks to watch fireworks at night and spend the following day out with family and friends having picnics, enjoying barbeques, and joining in large celebrations. This year, of course, is different. In order to protect against the coronavirus, we will be confined to our homes and separated from one another.
If barbequing and attending festivities were the only activities of this special day, the current restrictions might have robbed it of its joy. However, in Israel, this day is so much more than a day celebrating our political freedom. It is a day of religious significance – a day for prayer, reflection, and connecting with God.
When the nation of Israel was reborn, the leading rabbis of the time recognized it as an act of God. The return of the Jewish people to Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, one that the Jewish people yearned for during the long and bitter exile. The War of Independence, and virtually every war that has followed, saw outright miracles, as Israel emerged victorious against all odds every time.
In recognition of the spiritual significance of Israel’s rebirth, the rabbis determined that the traditional psalms of praise recited on all Jewish holidays should also be recited on Yom HaAtzmaut, and they added new liturgy to our prayers. So on Yom HaAtzmaut we celebrate not just our political freedom, but God’s promises that have been fulfilled in our lifetimes – and we anticipate the fulfillment of promises still to come.
Our Return to the Land
For my family, Yom HaAtzmaut is also a time to reflect on our own return to the land. My husband and I made aliyah to Israel 15 years ago, as new immigrants tentatively stepping into the unknown. Today, we are proud citizens completely in our element in our ancestral home. I marvel at how our four children were born in Israel and regard Hebrew as their mother tongue. We hike where our forefathers walked, we eat from the seven species of the land, and we recognize that we are living in the times that our ancestors only dreamed of. Indeed, God has done wondrous things, and He continues to bring about daily miracles.
So this year, while we might not have our large-scale festivities, we will still have tremendous joy and boundless gratitude to God. I hope that you will join me in praise and celebration, recalling that “This was the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalms 118: 23-24 NKJV).
Mazel Tov, Israel!
Coronavirus Holidays IFCJ Israel Independence Day The Fellowship Yom HaAtzmaut