A time to remember

Nisan is certainly one of the busiest months. Not only do we observe Shabbat Hagadol, followed by seven days of Pessah with all that that implies but then we begin the seven weeks of the daily counting of the Omer leading up to Shavuot.

A few weeks ago, as we prepared to usher in the month of Nisan, we read a special Torah section beginning with the words: "This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you" (Exodus 12:1). In many ways Nisan indeed rivals Tishrei as the most significant month of the Jewish year. In Tishrei, we celebrate the creation of the world. In Nisan, we celebrate the creation of our people. As a matter of fact, there was even a dispute among the sages concerning the month of creation and there were those who taught that the world was created in Nisan. "Rabbi Joshua says, 'The world was created in Nisan...'" (Rosh Hashana 10b-11a). Only later did the observance of creation become part of the Rosh Hashana liturgy, and Tishrei was proclaimed by all the month of creation. In any event, Nisan is certainly one of the busiest months. Not only do we observe Shabbat Hagadol, followed by seven days of Pessah with all that that implies - the cleaning, the preparation, the Seder, a week of special food, holiday services - but then we begin the seven weeks of the daily counting of the Omer leading up to Shavuot, and we observe three special new commemorative days on the Jewish liturgical calendar: Holocaust Remembrance Day, and, in the first week of the following month Iyar, Remembrance Day for the fallen soldiers of Israel and Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel Independence Day). In a strange way, then, the most ancient strands of Judaism are joined with the most modern events. The Holocaust and the formation of Israel take their place with the Exodus and Sinai, as well they should. How inappropriate it would be to remember what occurred more than 3,000 years ago and ignore what happened little more than half a century ago. These two events - the Holocaust and the creation of the Jewish state - represent polar opposites. The connection is not one of cause and effect, for the events leading to the creation of the Jewish state began long before the Holocaust. What can be said is that the state helped us to survive the devastation of the Holocaust. One records the depths of suffering and degradation that we as a people have endured, together with the heroism, physical and spiritual, of those who experienced it. The other celebrates the triumph of a people that against all odds has been able to regain its homeland and recreate the condition of sovereignty and freedom that it lost 2,000 years ago. The Holocaust must never be forgotten or ignored. To do so would be to desecrate the memory of each and every one of those who perished or who suffered through it. To do so would also be to risk allowing it to be repeated. However, it sometimes seems as if we place most of our emphasis on the Shoah and too little on the resurrection of Israel. Perhaps with the passing of time we have come to take Israel for granted. Certainly those of the younger generation, who never knew a time when there was no Israel, have more difficulty understanding the importance of its creation. That in itself is sufficient reason to celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut and pass on the message to our children and grandchildren. Here we take that for granted, but in the Diaspora, all too often the celebration is not sufficiently emphasized and Yom Ha'atzmaut goes on as if it were just another day of the year. Another problem is that with all of the difficulties that Israel faces, all of the threats and dangers that exist, all of the political scandals and internal problems of running a real country, we become aware of negative factors and forget the positive ones. This is especially true for Diaspora communities at a time when the press and significant segments of the general population have an antagonistic attitude toward Israel. We certainly cannot ignore the problems, and it is often justified to disagree with actions of the Israeli government or of individual Israeli leaders. For Israelis, criticism is a vital part of the democratic process. There is a place for criticism when it is justified, when it is uttered by those who are basically committed to the existence of the state, when it is voiced out of love and support and not out of a desire to undermine and destroy. But criticism, acknowledgment of Israel's shortcomings, should not detract from our appreciation of the significance of the return to Zion and the potential for the renewal of Jewish life that it contains. Rather it should spur us on the improve our society and bring it closer to the ideals upon which Israel was founded. This period of time is an opportunity to remember the sorrows of the past and pay honor to the six million and, at the same time, to celebrate the triumph of our people and reaffirm our support for the State of Israel and the resurgence of Jewish life and pride that it represents. The writer is a past head of the Rabbinical Court of the Masorti Movement and the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel.