Tradition Today: Celebrating together

Israel’s potential for not only returning Judaism to the realm of history but for bringing about a true renaissance of Judaism is enormous.

yom haatzmaut 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
yom haatzmaut 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Every year on Yom Ha’atzmaut, we join a group of friends for what has become our annual traditional picnic. Many of us in this group have been getting together like this since 1974, our first Yom Ha’atzmaut after coming on aliya. The core of the group is made up of families who spent that fateful year of the Yom Kippur War together in an absorption center and have remained friends ever since. This core is joined by others, olim and native Israelis, to whom we have become attached.
Politically we are a mixed group, which is probably why we do not discuss politics at our picnic. Some of us are angry with the government for not doing enough to make peace and for continuing to build in the settlements.
Others are angry with the government for making too many concessions and for not building enough in the settlements. We are also mixed religiously, belonging to different synagogues and different movements or to none, which is why we do not discuss religion at our picnic, either.
So what do we do aside from making a barbecue and eating delicious Israeli-style food? We sing nostalgic Eretz Yisrael songs and exchange news of what we, our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren are doing. We reminisce about what life has been like for us over these many years we have been here.
What is it that unites us and that keeps us here even when, for different reasons, we are often dissatisfied? I believe that it is our conviction that the Jewish people has the right to a land and a state of its own, our conviction that we have the right to establish our state in the ancient land of the Jewish people, the Land of Israel. It is our conviction that living in a place where Jews are the majority makes a qualitative difference in Jewish life. Today, for the first time in two millennia, Jews have a choice between living in a land where they are in the minority and where their culture is not dominant, and living in a land where they are the majority and thus in control of their fate as much as anyone can be in control.
The fortunate thing today is that in either case, Jews can live in an atmosphere of freedom where they are not second-class citizens. The lands where the majority of Jews live, be it the United States, Canada or Europe, are democratic societies in which Jews are accepted and have equal legal rights with all others. Only in a few totalitarian lands and Arab countries are they truly restricted. That does not mean that they do not encounter anti-Semitism – today sometimes intertwined with anti-Zionism – or that there is never discrimination, but it is on a scale totally different than what Jews had to endure only a few decades ago in the Soviet Union, for example. We may lament that this new freedom is also the cause of a tremendous wave of assimilation that threatens Jewish life and even the existence of certain Jewish communities, but no one would say that we want to go back to oppressive societies in which Jewish communities were more cohesive because Jews could not escape their Jewishness.
Given this choice, we in our group have decided that Israel is where we want to live, warts and all. Without denigrating Jewish life in the Diaspora – and indeed sometimes envying aspects of it – the possibility of living in a state that defines itself as Jewish, that is dedicated to preserving the Jewish people and the Jewish heritage, where the rhythm of Judaism is the rhythm of life, trumps everything else.
Israel’s potential for not only returning Judaism to the realm of history but for bringing about a true renaissance of Judaism is enormous.
It has not been realized as yet for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the mixture of religion and politics that makes pluralism so limited. Another is the continuous problem of the unresolved Israeli- Arab conflict, which occupies us almost to the exclusion of everything else. When these problems are resolved for the benefit of all, who knows what developments await us in this land of promise.
In the meantime, we will continue to celebrate the truly miraculous existence of the Third Jewish Commonwealth at our annual picnic, to raise our glasses “l’hayei Medinat Yisrael” (to the existence of the State of Israel) and pray for a time of peace and tranquility.
The writer, former president of the International Rabbinical Assembly, was the founding director of the Schechter Rabbinical School. His latest book is Entering Torah.