Yom Haaztmaut Israeli flag 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
For humans, the number 63 describing our birthdays usually indicates the nearing of our retirement years. Our bodies no longer function at the vigor and efficiency that they did a few decades earlier.
But in terms of historic longevity of nations and states, 63 years is not a long time at all. So even though those of us who remember the day of the founding of the State of Israel are certainly aged and weaker than we were back in 1948, the state itself is in its youthful and exuberant stage of development.
Much is made, and justifiability so, of the enormous challenges that our country faces. The external threat to its very survival has not diminished over the many decades since its founding. And there are plenty of instances of internal strife, shameful politicking and pettiness of purpose and action to keep our media and attention occupied.
But there are now over six million Jews living in our homeland, and to me it is refreshing in the utmost to hear the figure of six million Jews used in a much happier context than its usual association with the tragedy of the Holocaust.
The achievements of the state over its little more than six decades of existence are truly astounding. It certainly begets feelings of wonder when one merely stops to consider what other nations have accomplished – or not accomplished – in the same period of time. The prophets of Israel foretold us that such wonders would occur in the guise of natural and human endeavor and accomplishment. It is one thing to be told about great events. It is another totally different experience to witness those great things first hand.
How to mark such an event is always debatable.
Many people mark their birthdays with cakes and parties and merriment. Others prefer to ignore the passage of time in their lives. Still others wait for a magical number of years to pass in order to stage an event.
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The State of Israel has a ritualized its own form of commemorating its birthday. But like all officially ordained modes of celebration, spontaneity and enthusiasm associated with such a celebration is often lacking.
Perhaps simply recognizing and internalizing the existence of this milestone in the life story of the Jewish people is in itself a sufficient commemoration of the event. If the individual Jew alone does not feel the specialness of the occasion within his own consciousness then no official commemoration will fill that void.
Hillel stated this truth when he said: “If I am not for me then who or what will ever be for me!” If the existence and success of the State of Israel is not felt on an emotional and spiritual level but merely on a visceral and objective level then the whole point of the enterprise is missed.
The prophet Ezekiel warned the Jewish people 2,500 years ago against thinking of themselves as being somehow like all other nations and peoples. Israel’s Independence Day is not the same as Bastille Day or Dominion Day or the Fourth of July. Once it is relegated to that exact status then it loses all emotional and spiritual meaning.
People have short memories and 63 years is a long time for most of us. The inability to fully teach the lessons of the past that created the State of Israel and saved the Jewish world from incurable depression after the Holocaust is one of the great failings of our society and its educational systems.
And again, no public commemoration, no matter how impressive in presentation and extravagant in cost, will help ameliorate this situation. Somehow, education that can reach the Jewish heart and soul, and not just the mind and eyes, is necessary for today’s Israeli society.
For millennia, such education was present and transmitted from generation to generation. It needs to be revived in our current world and society.
On Israel’s Independence Day, Israel Prizes are distributed to people accomplished in the arts and sciences, public welfare and communal leadership.
However I believe that the true Israel Prize is to be given to the one who experiences Israel in one’s heart and spirit all of the days of the year. Happy Independence Day!
Berel Wein is a noted rabbi, scholar, historian, and educator.
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