A beggar in Jerusalem 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Passover and Israel’s Independence Day are deeply connected. Not just the
proximity of their calendar dates but because for centuries Passover, and
particularly the Seder, remains the Jewish ritual celebrating our people’s
freedom and independence. We turn our Seder tables into the most festive
“altar,” we offer prayers of hope and thanksgiving. We lift our glass to Elijah,
reaching for redeemed world. Passover is our great national holiday shared by
all Jews everywhere.
Another connection between Passover Independence Day
can be found on the Shabbat of Passover, usually in the interim days known as
Hol Hamoed. On this Shabbat we recite the Song of Songs, that luscious biblical
love poem filled with imagery of the Land of Israel. The image of these
landscapes, flora and fauna helps ground us in the hills and valleys of this
And a wonderful connection between the two days can be found in the
words of the biblical prophet Ezekiel, that we chant on the Shabbat of Passover
recited as the Haftara (additional prophetic portion).
In what is
commonly known as the vision of the Dry Bones, Ezekiel offers a powerful and
urgent message for the future: “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost (v’avda
), we are cut off [from life]” (37:11). But then after this desolation
comes the promise of renewal and restoration: “I will put My breath into you and
you shall live, and I will place you in your own land” (37:14).
great epic poem in 1886, Naftali Herz Imber literally willed the revival of the
Jewish people in their homeland, in defiance and deference to the words of
Ezekiel. “Our Hope is not lost (od lo avda tikvateinu
This poem became “Hatikva” the words of Israel’s national
Imber was a romantic poet in every sense of the word, and his
great love was of Jewish texts. His original “Hatikva” consists of many verses,
all with great pathos, yearning for the return of the Jewish People to their
homeland, drenched with biblical references. He was inspired by our classic
sources. In fact, that the essence of Hatikva can be found in the words of
Ezekiel is testimony to the story of the revival of Hebrew language and poetry,
as well as the rebirth of a nation.
The rebirth of the Hebrew language,
poetry and prose represent what is probably the most powerful cultural
resurrection of the 20th century. Ezekiel was right. These words, written
sometime in the sixth century BCE, resonated in the hearts, minds, and pens of
our early Zionist dreamers. Recited century after century, this haftara has
changed from a wistful prayer to a clarion call to action.
Haggada, liturgy and biblical readings, stop short of our entrance into the Land
of Israel. Yet, we have indeed entered, and as we prepare for this 64th year,
dare we ask, are we still that beacon of hope, freedom and justice envisioned by
our prophetic tradition? We were slaves, we were strangers, we were
marginalized, we were despised, it is therefore incumbent upon us to build a
society that spreads compassion, promotes justice, and protects the
Israel’s powerful Declaration of Independence set us on course to
do just this for the Jewish people, for the minorities within Israel, and even
reach out to our hostile neighbors. “To be free people in our land,” claims
Sadly, even our anthem has recently stirred controversy, when
the Arab Supreme Court Justice was “caught” not singing along when the anthem
was played. What other country could boast a woman chief justice and an Arab
citizen on the same bench?
“To be a free people” proposes equality. This
year, the women of the Court might have demurred as well, as women voices were
silenced at other public ceremonies. This past year, women fought against
bus segregation, and fought for simple public displays of just being
Our Haggada demands that we remember that with freedom comes the
responsibility to fight for a redeemed world. We can be free and secure here if
we uphold our most precious values of hope and liberation. Our shared destiny
needs moderation, compromise and cooperation among the varied sectors of Israeli
society. These impulses draw Jews outside of Israel closer to us.
young people held up the torch this past summer to remind us that we are here,
walking in the footsteps of our prophets. This beacon can serve as inspiration
to young Jews worldwide. We have gone from being “upstarts” to “start-ups,” and
this economic miracle coupled with a fair distribution of resources continues
our great biblical traditions. On this birthday, may we continue to sow the
seeds of “tikva” throughout Israeli society.
Imber died destitute in
America in 1909. Yet his words resurrect his spirit every time our anthem is
sung. Ezekiel was revived and made popular in a famous rock ’n’ roll song in the
late 1960s, “Yeah Yeah Yehezkel [Ezekiel].” Only in Israel – where tikva
hope, is never lost.The writer is the dean of Hebrew Union
College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem.