Days of sadness and joy

Once Pessah arrives we enter a period of time in which holidays and days of mourning follow one another in rapid succession.

Once Pessah arrives we enter a period of time in which holidays and days of mourning follow one another in rapid succession. Most of these are commemorations that reflect the history of the Jewish people during the 20th century, surely the most significant period for Jews since the destruction of the Temple in the first century. Only a few days after Pessah comes Holocaust Remembrance Day - and soon after Yom Hazikaron, Remembrance Day commemorating the fallen of Israel's wars, followed immediately by Yom Ha'atzmaut. We hardly have time to breathe between one event and another. Obviously Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut are intimately connected. We gained our independence and retain our freedom only because of the sacrifices of the fallen. They were indeed the "silver platter" upon which we received the "gift" of the State of Israel. What connection is there, however, between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Independence Day? Their very closeness in time often leads us - erroneously I believe - to see a causal connection. Yet we must approach this with caution. Our enemies - when they are not denying the Holocaust or belittling its scope - are constantly drawing the connection, contending that the State of Israel was created to compensate for the Shoah and therefore asking why they should have to pay the price of what a European nation did to European Jewry. All too often Jews inadvertently lend credence to these claims by also connecting these two events, contending that the Holocaust brought about the founding of the State of Israel. Some religious leaders go so far as to teach that the Shoah was God's plan so that Israel could be established. That was the price that had to be paid for the restoration of our sovereignty. This teaching is not only absurd but is also a desecration of God - hillul hashem. What kind of a God would it be who would deliberately allow the death of one million children - to say nothing of five million adults - for any purpose whatsoever? The God of Israel is not such a cruel or heartless God. Some contend that it was a punishment for lack of observance, or for Zionism. Thus millions are slandered. Indeed we would be wise to avoid any connection of God with the Holocaust. To ascribe it to God is to relieve those who committed it of their responsibility. It is the misuse of the freedom of choice and action that we have been granted as human beings that caused the Shoah. Human beings planned it. Human beings executed it. Human beings permitted it to happen by their inaction and six million paid the terrible price. From a historical viewpoint the connection of the Shoah and the state also ignores the fact that Zionism - modern political Zionism - started long before the Holocaust. Of course the longing for Zion and the desire to return to this land began long before that. No sooner had the Temple been destroyed and Jewish sovereignty eradicated than in our daily Amida we began to pray daily for the restoration. How often our prayers are punctuated with the cry for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the ingathering of the exiles, even in places where they have no logical reason for being mentioned. Those sages who formulated these Zionides probably assumed that the Roman "exile" would conclude as speedily as had the Babylonian one. If so, they were wrong. It lasted 2,000 years. But their impassioned expressions of longing were not in vain. They kept alive the vision and the hope of Zion so that it could be realized once again. Their liturgical creations were the vital basis upon which Zionism - so aptly named - could be created. The Jewish claim to independence within the Land of Israel is not based on the Holocaust but on the fact that our people has lived here for thousands of years and never surrendered our rights to the land of our ancestors. We were deprived of our homeland by force and have a right to reclaim it. Nor was there ever a time when Jews did not live here. The resettlement began long before the Shoah and was not connected to it but to the age-long desire of Jews to live in their own land. If there is any connection between the two events it is not a causal one, but rather that without the creation of the state it would have been difficult for Jewish life to continue after the Holocaust. The rebirth of Israel enabled the Jewish people to lift itself up from the ashes of the Shoah and to rehabilitate itself. Abraham Joshua Heschel expressed it thus: The State of Israel is not an atonement. It would be blasphemy to regard it as compensation. However, the existence of Israel reborn makes life less unendurable (Israel: An Echo of Eternity, page 113). It is vital that we observe these days of sadness and joy, but let us not be fooled by the happenstance of their closeness in the calendar into drawing incorrect conclusions about their relationship. On the other hand let us give thanks that Holocaust Remembrance Day does not stand alone, for were that to be the case Jewish life would be unendurable. The writer is an author and lecturer who serves as the head of the Rabbinical Court of the Masorti Movement.