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The op-ed piece "Haredi uncertainty over Yom Ha'atzma'ut" which recently appeared in these pages reminded me of an Independence Eve some years ago. Three haredi patients with minor ailments walked into my husband's home-based medical clinic in Safed. Treatment over, a spontaneous discussion began about this holiday whose existence they seemed to ignore. Grasping a golden opportunity, the doctor began a different method of healing.
He explained that being dati leumi (national religious), our family flies the blue and white flag from the balcony and the car and takes part in a festive prayer service on Erev Yom Ha'atzma'ut in the synagogue, followed by a kiddush. Because this holiday signifies to us a ness galu'i - an obvious miracle - we also recite Hallel.
The three young men were now listening very carefully; after all, this is their doctor talking. My husband asked them, how many of you ever think about the significance of this day, celebrated by most of the citizens of Israel since 1948? The prophet Isaiah, when he comforts the people of Israel, prophesies: "Look around and see how they have all gathered together and come back to You." Whether you like it or not, said the doctor, the creation of the State of Israel has enabled Jews from 102 countries to come home for the first time in 2000 years. The country was barren, untended by the Arabs and neglected after hundreds of years of occupation by the Turks and British. The Jews received a gift in 1948 that they used to the full: they planted, they caused the swamps to flourish, the desert to bloom, industry to thrive, an ancient language to revive - all within a few decades. However you look at it, all this is part of the miracle. Yom Ha'Atzmaut is the day on which we say "Thank you God, for enabling us to return to this Land."
You may not agree with the way the country is being run, he told them, you may think that our leaders have made decisions that have been too costly where the lives of its citizens are concerned, you may even consider its leaders incapable of leadership. But, all this notwithstanding - we received a gift that was merely a dream for 2000 years. Don't you thank someone when you receive a gift?
The three hassidim sat there, eyes glued to the doctor. This was all new to them. All in their middle to late-twenties, they had simply never thought about this aspect of our country. Brought up in the Bnei Brak hothouse, consciously disconnected from the "outside" Israeli world, all they had ever seen or heard about Yom Ha'atzma'ut was "Amcha Yisrael" grilling steaks over coals in the open spaces around the country.
Well, retorted my husband, why shouldn't the masses enjoy their "mangal," their barbecue? That is their way of giving thanks to God - the freedom to have a get-together and a good meat meal in the open air, as citizens of their own country. We also retrieve the grill from the back of the cupboard, said the doctor. It fits in with the atmosphere of the day. Here in Israel, we can celebrate any way we want. We no longer have to hide the fact that we are Jews, and we don't have to answer to anybody.
IT WAS AMAZING to see the looks on the faces of these bearded, black-kippa'ed, black-coated young men; they were speechless. The doctor invited them into our house, and they looked around the front room where the blue and white flag-flowers adorned the piano, tables and bookshelves. They saw our festive clothing and then admitted something they never had before: that the State of Israel, even though it is not run to their liking, was nonetheless a gift from God; a gift that they, too, ought to be grateful for.
Just before they left, my husband asked them what they thought their grandfather in the Russian or Polish shtetl would have said if he had been told that one day in 70 years time, the pope - the spiritual leader of hundreds of millions of Catholics - would have to obtain the permission of the Jewish government of the Jewish state, to come and visit Israel and pray at the holy Western Wall.
They looked at one another, thought for a moment, and then one of them said: "He simply would have refused to believe such a thing could happen; he would say 'Dus mis sein Moshiach's Zeiten!' (The Messiah must be on his way)
The author is a freelance translator and editor located in Safed.