Does it annoy you how Independence Day moves from [Hebrew] date to date year by year? Independence Day is really the 5th of Iyar, but if Pesach starts on Shabbat then we'll celebrate on a Thursday, the 4th of Iyar; if Pesach starts on Sunday then we'll celebrate on a Thursday, the 3rd of Iyar; if Pesach starts on Tuesday then we'll celebrate on a Monday, the 6th of Iyar. Only when Pesach starts on Thursday will we actually celebrate on the 5th of Iyar, which will then be a Wednesday. But you know – that's actually one of the beautiful Jewish things of this beautiful Jewish state. Let me explain why.

As a kid in Chicago I was a member of Bnei Akiva, a Religious-Zionist youth movement. I probably wouldn't have made it here if I wasn't for Bnei Akiva. Of course our Zionism wasn't from Herzl, Jabotinsky or other secular Zionist thinkers, shakers and doers. Our Zionism came from Judaism: from the Tanach, Talmud, Jewish philosophy and law. The centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Jewish life and the return to her as part of the geulah, the redemption of Israel, is what motivated us to make aliyah. The names we knew were: Tirat Tzvi – after Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Kalisher who wrote a book about how the redemption will come through our picking ourselves up and going to settle the land, Sde Eliyahu – after his colleague Rabbi Eliyahu Gutmacher, who wrote that he is certain that the redemption will start to come if there will be at least 130 families working the Holy Land, and Haroeh – the initials of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen [Kook] who expounded at length about the process of the redemption of the Jewish nation. It wasn't secular Zionism that motivated us – but we recognized it as part of the process of the return of the Jews to Israel and the return of the land to life for the Jewish nation.

At Bnei Akiva – we would gather and after first meeting and schmoozing, we'd sing. One of the songs was a passage from Yirmiyahu, containing the words: "Am sreedey charev", a nation who survived the sword. But some kids would sing: "Want a three day vacation". It fit, sounded similar and was properly mischievous as kids were once allowed to be. Of course it wasn't what we really wanted. We wanted to work, to realize and live the dream – to move up to Israel.

Now a three day vacation is something that happens all the time in the U.S. I'm old enough to remember how we celebrated Washington's Birthday on… Washington's birthday! But then the law was changed to celebrate on the third Monday of February. You know why? Because… "want a three day vacation", Saturday Sunday and Monday. That's why Labor Day, MLK Day, Memorial Day and Columbus Day are all celebrated on a Monday, detached from any particularly significant date. Even Independence Day, the 4th of July, if it falls on a weekend, then the previous Friday or following Monday will be a holiday, to achieve that three day vacation! It's like: "Sure! We wanna celebrate Georgie's b-day, but we'll do it on the closest Monday so we can have a long weekend! "We want a three day, three day vacation!"

Now here in the Holy Land, in the state of Israel, as secular as you may think it is, as divided and polarized as some would have us believe, we also would like a three day vacation (which in Israel, because of the "matzav", is cut down to two days, but we can fit more into two days than others do in three) – but we know there are things that are much more important, like Shabbat, a day off to invest in the spirit and soul. So we make sure that Independence Day or Memorial Day is NOT adjacent to Shabbat, in order to avoid desecrating the Shabbat either on Independence Day or in preparation for Memorial Day. That's why Independence Day changes, because of a deep-deep-down understanding that – regardless of the measure of religious practice of each one of us – there is an added value to Shabbat. It's as if we know that a full realization of Jewish life is dependant on there being Jewish independence in our homeland, and that independence is dependant on our spiritual uniqueness, which is expressed by the Shabbat. So – A happy Independence Day!

 

P.S. Of course there are some of us who will have a "bridge" vacation, by bridging Independence Day with Shabbat (we don't have three day vacations, we have bridges). That's just another bit of Israeli genius… 
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