Essence, Remembrance and Independence

Late last week my wonderful wife of almost 34 years attended a mini-high school reunion. Ora grew up in Givatayim, on the border of Tel Aviv, in a ‘traditional’ Jewish family. Many Jewish customs were followed, but they weren’t religiously observant, or Orthodox. She attended regular public school. Last week she traveled to Tel Aviv to visit with her class, together with their 10th-11th-12th grade teacher. She hadn’t been in touch with most of these people over the years, but had spent much time with them as a teenager. She hasn’t stopped speaking about this reunion since.

Unfortunately, her reflections aren’t overly positive. Most of the 20 or so people who were present were either never married, or are divorced, and many have ‘partners.’ I’m not sure if all of them people together have the number of children and grandchildren we have. One of the woman told how she lived with a man for a number of years, but never married. When he became very ill, they ‘decided’ to split up. Another woman told how, after she became ill with cancer, her husband decided enough was enough, and left her.

The group sat in a living room, each person giving an account of their lives over the past decades, with children married to non-Jews, etc. etc. This was all accepted without any side comments, or exclamations. Until my wife said that she lives in Hebron. Whoop. Everyone woke up. The ‘teacher’ remarked how ‘settlers were taking over a hill-top here and a hill-top there.’ Ora put an end to the snide observations, saying she’d come to hear what everyone was up to and to participate, without getting into political discussions. Then she went on to give them a lesson in Jewish heritage in Hebron, and later invited them to come visit. She was also the only religious person in the group.

It wasn’t all bad. One man told how he was dedicating his life to a son injured very badly in an auto accident.

But all-in-all, Ora wasn’t impressed. The teacher was, writing a letter to the class after the event, telling them how proud she was of them, how they’d been a great class way back when, and how they were still wonderful. I asked Ora what she was talking about, and she answered that they’d succeeded in business, had a good life style, etc.


Last Saturday night I attended a class given by a very well-known Rabbi, a learned scholar. I’d heard about him and seen some of his writings, but had never attended a class with him. Wow! Was I in for a shock.

The class was broken into three parts. The middle section dealt with the intricacies of Jewish law and the Passover sacrifice on Temple Mount. I found that very interesting.

But the beginning and end of the class dealt with a humongous battering of Zionism, the creation of the State of Israel and Israeli independence. I was stunned. The Rabbi’s attack, which I can almost classify as vicious, attempted to obliterate the ideology by which I’ve lived for almost four decades. This being that the State of Israel is, as of yet, far from perfect, but is, most definitely, a Divine gift, after a 2,000 year exile from our land. These teachings are primarily expressed in the works of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook and his son, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook.

The Rabbi, in other words, if I understood him correctly, basically supports a total dismantling of the State and its rebuilding. He stated, again, according to my understanding, that the framework of the State is unimportant; only the substance or essence is of any significance.

I haven’t yet had a chance to discuss this with the Rabbi. But by my way of thinking, of course the core of all bodies is the spirit. But a soul without a body is, (at least in this world) indefinable. So too, a body without a soul. They need one another. A candle unlit shines no light. A flame, without a wick, extinguishes and too, shines no light. The flame needs the wick, the candle, and the candle too, needs the flame.

So too, Israel. Without a framework, without a sovereign element, we have no way to express our unique identity as a people, as a culture. And without that tradition, what are we? Are we different from anyone else? These two elements, as I’ve tried to articulate, seemed to be missing in the two programs outlined above. A group of sixty year old people, who have what to show for their lives? A good salary? True, money usually helps, as does a good job, but what about the essence. Where is the family, the children, the grandchildren? When my wife mentioned our kids and grandkids (in double digits plus), the group was stunned.

What about other values? How can a person leave their ‘spouse’ because they are sick, at a time when they are most in need? With all the problems and issues we have today in Israel, and that we’ve had over the years, (and who knows what the future will bring), how can we not thank G-d for the unbelievable miracle called Israel? We are commanded to express gratitude for the good granted to us, individually, and as a people. The state of Israel, after 2,000 years of exile, after a holocaust which annihilated over six million of our people, how can anyone be so blind as to not see the Divine phenomenon of our existence, in our land.

True, there is still much to fix. We are far from finished. But come Memorial day, when we reflect on what we’ve lost in order to achieve what we’ve achieved, and when we celebrate Independence Day, we must examine our values.

Independence Day is called, in Hebrew, Yom HaAtzmaut. Atzmaut, meaning independence, is also very similar to the word Azmut, which means essence. It also is very similar to the word, Atzamot, meaning bones. Bones are a framework. Like the candle. Atzmut, essence, like the flame. Together they are Atzmaut – Independence. Both are essential.

Happy Independence Day!