Tradition Today: Celebrating the restoration

When we see Jewish populations dwindling elsewhere, in Israel they are increasing.

Yom Ha'atzmaut - Independence Day - which we are about to celebrate, and Yom Hazikaron Lashoah Velagevura - Holocaust Remembrance Day - commemorated last week, are the newest holy days to be added to the calendar of the Jewish year and they could hardly be more different from one another. In a sense both owe their existence to the State of Israel since they were first created by act of the Knesset as national-secular occasions and only later accepted by religious bodies as part of the religious year. Since they are so close to one another, people often assume that there is a relationship between them, as if the Holocaust was the cause of the creation of Israel or as if the creation of Israel somehow compensated for the Shoah. Neither is true. The movement for a Jewish state began long before the Holocaust as the expression of the will of the Jewish people to restore itself to national independence in its own land after 2,000 years of statelessness. For some it was the answer to anti-Semitism. For others the impetus was the desire to create a place where Jewish culture and civilization could flourish. Thus it was truly an attempt to preserve the Jewish people both physically and spiritually. As for compensation for the Shoah, there can be no compensation for the death of six million in an unparalleled orgy of evil. The creation of Israel was, however, the action that was needed to permit the Jewish people to overcome the despair in which we found ourselves at that bleak time, the proof that am Yisrael hai - the Jewish people lives. Indeed the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel after nearly 2,000 years is the most important event of Jewish history during that entire period. It is the answer to the dreams, hopes and prayers of Jews for millennia and as such is certainly as important as either Purim or Hanukka and warrants a major celebration. That is why the Masorti/Conservative Movement has gone so far as to include a new Al Hanissim (For the Miracles) prayer in the Amida for Yom Ha'atzmaut as well as devising an entire ritual for that day, including the recitation of the Hallel with the blessing. This is part of our attempt to convey that feeling of miracle to the majority of Jews today, who were born after the declaration of the state and therefore have difficulty appreciating the wonder of its existence. I am reminded of S.Y. Agnon's saying that there were two ways in which the War of Independence could have been won - the natural way and the miraculous way. The natural way would have been for God to personally intervene and smite our enemies. The miraculous way would have been for the armies of Israel to win the war through their own powers! Of course, dreams and realities do not always coincide. Translating dreams into realities is not easy and not always possible. There are many problems faced by Israel, internally as well as externally. This is a time of unease in Zion when we realize that there are many hurdles to be overcome to translate the dream of Zion into everyday reality. Israel today perhaps more than at any time in its history is faced with challenges both to its security and to its democratic and moral values. Yet this is not the time for despair, not the time to abandon the dream and the vision. For all the difficulties and all the problems, we cannot help but be astonished at what Israel has achieved in the six decades of its existence. Israel is more than a place of refuge. When we see Jewish populations dwindling elsewhere, in Israel they are increasing. When Jewish birthrates fall elsewhere, in Israel they are still great. When intermarriage and assimilation eat away at Jewish communities, in Israel the community remains strong. Where else does Hebrew flourish, where else can one experience Judaism in a complete way as a national expression, with its calendar being the calendar of the Jewish year? Jews can live anywhere they want and Jewish communities should flourish in lands of freedom - but there is only one place in which Judaism is the majority religion and the Jewish people is sovereign. The implications of that have yet to be fully understood or implemented. When they are we will see a rebirth of Judaism such as has not been known since the days of the Second Commonwealth. Because of that Jews everywhere have an obligation to create close ties to Israel - the center of Jewish life. In a very real sense the community in Israel belongs to all Jews everywhere. Above all it means that Jews must visit there, if possible for long visits, and send their children there for programs that will enhance their Jewish lives and cement their ties to the land and to the people. Let us wish Israel a wonderful and peaceful celebration and let us all share in the feeling of the psalmist, "When the Lord returned the captivity of Zion we were as dreamers." The writer is the head of the Rabbinical Court of the Masorti Movement and the author of several books, the most recent being Entering Torah.