Israelis dance with Israeli national flags during celebrations marking Israel's 68th Independence Day in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian nuclear threat. Terrorism. Worldwide anti-Israel bias. Poverty. Traffic fatalities. Religious extremism.
Despite the State of Israel’s incredible accomplishments and the miracle of the ingathering of the exiles, the list of problems and challenges facing our state goes on and on. So why the great celebration on Independence Day?
I believe the answer to that question can be found in one word: process.
Israel is a work in progress. At 69 years old, we are at the very beginning of the story called “the State of Israel.” We are nowhere near the end of the story.
Israel is a complex country with unique security and societal challenges. We take two steps forward and one step back. If we focus on the setbacks and challenges we won’t get anywhere. So we have learned to confront the challenges while celebrating the steps forward, however small they may be.
One of those small steps forward took place this week, far from the lights of media attention: the first ever ultra-Orthodox Remembrance Day event. A group of Israel-born haredim decided that they were fed up with the haredi establishment either ignoring, or even opposing the army and the sacrifices that have been made in the IDF. So they gathered at the Begin Center in Jerusalem to pay tribute to soldiers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
One rosh yeshiva told the audience that the effort which haredim place on trying to preserve their culture and way of life cannot turn them into ingrates who ignore one of the basics of human nature: hakarat hatov, a gratitude toward those who help us, in this case the soldiers protecting our country and losing their lives in defense of each and every one of us.
A haredi poet unveiled a new poem about the different reactions of mothers who have lost their sons in battle, including the extremes of mourning at his grave on a weekly basis, and choosing to bring new children into the world.
There was not a dry eye in the house as the assembled heard a haredi soldier describe what it was like to see friends from his unit killed in battle right next to him, and how he carries that burden with him all the time.
A former general told his personal story, starting with his father being killed in the War of Independence when he was three months old, continuing with his wounds and working hard to be accepted into an elite combat unit, to the enlistment of his own children. The haredim sat mesmerized and deeply touched by how this general’s life was dedicated to protecting them, and how much he and his family sacrificed.
And one haredi journalist looked at the crowd and encouraged them to break down a barrier and attend a state commemoration event on Remembrance Day (which is why they held this event before the official day on Monday).
In addition, those in attendance were given different books of the Mishna to study, and complete sections were studied in memory of Israeli soldiers.
I was blessed to attend this event, which was deliberately kept quiet and private to ensure that the extremist elements in the haredi community did not interfere.
On Independence Day, we should all celebrate that this event took place. It wasn’t a group of thousands, and the fact that it happened may even lead to stronger outcries and protests from the extremists. But next year there will be more haredim who attend such events, and even more the year after that.
Similarly, there are more haredi officers in the IDF than ever before – there were 79 haredi officers in 2015, but that number grew to 97 in 2016, and 113 this year.
Steps forward and steps backward. But we keep on moving forward.
This idea applies to every aspect of life in Israel: Palestinian terrorism, Jewish-Arab relations, religion and state issues, socioeconomic challenges, absorption of the Ethiopian Jewish community, and more.
Steps forward and steps backward. At times those steps forward are baby steps like the haredi Remembrance Day event, and at times they are drastic like the Six Day War. But we keep on moving forward. That is the story of Israel. That is the story of the Jewish people returning home after 2,000 years of exile.
We are blessed to have our own state and self-determination, no longer in the hands of others who do with us as they please. We now write our own story. But doing so is no simple task.
That is the process and work in progress that we celebrate on Independence Day