David Ben-Gurion addresses an AACI dinner at the Sheraton Hotel in 1961 next to Murray Greenfield..
(photo credit: MURRAY GREENFIELD)
The State of Israel is Born!” was the dramatic headline on May 16, 1948. But what a precarious birth. On the same front page were other headlines: “Egyptian Air Force Spitfires Bomb Tel Aviv...2 Columns Cross Southern Border”; and “Etzion Settlers Taken P.O.W.” It was a sobering and frightening beginning for this fragile, infant state.
Today, 67 years later, we are celebrating with a mixture of pride, concern, hope and faith for the future – not just in Israel, but wherever Jewish communities exist around the world. The Israeli Jewish children grew into youths ready to defend their country; adults went into training and tightened their belts for the difficult days ahead. David Ben-Gurion, at the forefront, urged us to follow him – and we did. The long exile was over. For the first time in nearly 2,000 years, Israel was a nation with its own Declaration of Independence. In the words of Psalm 126:1 “When the Lord caused us to return to Zion, we were as dreamers.”
There was the question of what to name the Jewish state. Some early proposals were “Zion,” “the Jewish State,” “Judea,” “the Land of Israel” and “Yehuda.”
When Ben-Gurion suggested “Israel,” it was accepted.
67 years later we are still a country defining itself.See the latest opinion pieces on our Opinion & Blogs Facebook page
There are still so many questions – are we a Jewish nation or a nation full of Jews? Where should our borders stop? What role should religion play in the public’s life? Should the Supreme Court, Knesset or religious courts have the upper hand? Should there be electoral reform? Should yeshiva students be required to serve in the army? These basic questions are still being wrestled with more than six decades later.
So is the question of the religious status of Independence Day. Some rabbis saw the rebirth of Israel as a religious event – providence guiding history.
“At’halta d’geulah” – the dawn of Redemption.
Others, like the extreme Satmar and Neturei Karta sects, are fiercely negative. However, the national religious camp celebrates it joyously, along with most of Israel’s Jewish citizens. The late Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook even saw the military parades as positive. He said the tanks, cannons, planes and IDF uniforms were implements of “mitzvot” in the service of settling the land.
We Israelis celebrate Independence Day in a myriad of ways – by going to the countryside and hiking through beautiful nature reserves; making barbecues; singing Hebrew songs around campfires; fireworks; street parties with music and dancing, and an annual Bible Quiz.
It has been a long and difficult journey to reach this 67th celebration. There have been wars and terrorist attacks that have left the nation mourning.
There are the strained relations with US President Barack Obama after the recent elections re-instated Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. There is the ongoing threat of a nuclear Iran and the brutal Islamic State making inroads globally. There is the rise of virulent anti-Semitism in Europe. But here have also been magnificent achievements in medicine, science, agriculture, high-tech and every branch of the arts.
During all this time, Israel has striven for peace with its neighbors without success. May this be the year that Jonathan Pollard is returned to our land.
In the meantime: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has kept us alive, preserved us and permitted us to behold this day.”
The writer is the author of 13 books, one of which, The Pomegranate Pendant, has been made into a movie, titled The Golden Pomegranate. Born in Australia, she has lived in Jerusalem for 44 years.