Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Victims of Terrorism began on Sunday at sundown and ends at sundown Monday. During these 24 hours, we pay tribute to the 23,169 casualties of war and terrorism who have fallen since 1860, the year marked as the advent of the modern Jewish Yishuv or settlement in the Land of Israel.
In truth, 1860 is an arbitrary date. The Jewish people’s yearning to return to its historic homeland extends far back in history to 70 CE, the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. And the Jewish people’s prayers and hopes for an end to exile stored up over nearly two millennia gave it unique strength.
When asked how the fledgling Jewish state, born into a state of war, managed to overcome the combined armies of the Arab states, Yigael Yadin, one of the founding fathers of the IDF, pointed to the Jewish people’s pent up desire for a state of its own where it could live in freedom and independence. Yadin likened the Jews’ longing to a “spring compressed... to the utmost of its compressibility” over thousands of years of exile, which “when finally released, it liberated.”
Yadin’s metaphor goes a long way toward explaining the rationale behind juxtaposing Remembrance Day to Independence Day. The long-repressed energies of Diaspora Jewry were given a constructive outlet with the establishment of the State of Israel. But there was a price: Some made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Jewish independence.
Asa Kasher, author of the IDF’s code of ethics and a bereaved father of an IDF soldier, emphasized a different aspect of the connection between Remembrance Day and Independence Day on his Facebook page.
Referring to it as “the deepest of the state’s symbols,” setting side by side the two national days of commemoration allows each day to borrow from the other.
On Independence Day, our joy is tempered by the knowledge that many gave their lives so that we can live in liberty. And on Remembrance Day the mourning of individuals is transformed from a private bereavement to a collective recognition of the sacrifices of those who are no longer with us and a collective affirmation that those sacrifices were not for nothing.
Yet, we have a tendency, as Israelis and as Zionists, to believe that after the creation of the State of Israel, and especially after an impressive track record of 66 years, our point has been made. We have become a nation among the nations. We have at long last achieved what had for so long been denied us – a state of our own. Our nationhood is today an undeniable fact.
But this way of thinking is a pleasant illusion, from which we are repeatedly woken up – when volleys of Kassam missiles are fired at Jewish communities in the South; when “moderate” Palestinian politicians glorify murderers of Jewish women and children as “heroes;” when the Islamic Republic denies the Holocaust if only to lay the groundwork for a repeat performance; or when Israel is likened to apartheid-era South Africa to show that its legitimacy is no less in question.
As we honor those who sacrificed what was most precious and prepare to celebrate the mind-boggling achievement made in just two-thirds of a century of Jewish sovereignty, we must also be cognizant of the many challenges that face us in coming weeks, months, and years.
Our enemies in Gaza and south Lebanon are graduating from the cruder and less accurate Kassam and Katuysha rockets to increasingly more accurate, longer- range projectiles; Palestinian incitement continues; the Iranians’ aspirations for nuclear weapon capability are not being seriously checked by the international community; and those who seek to delegitimize Israel show no signs of repenting.
But the Jewish people’s indomitable spirit remains strong. Pent up and repressed for thousands of years, the Jews’ yearning to live in freedom and liberty in their historic homeland is far from spent. The spring compressed to the utmost of its compressibility in the long years of exile continues to provide the Jewish people with unfathomable reserves of strength.
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