Seventy-five years is no small feat for a tiny country created by a handful of people in a barren, desert land. Israel has surpassed all expectations. I say that not as a proud Jew or an ardent Zionist – labels that I unabashedly wear. I say that as a historian and critical thinker.
My parents and grandparents, typical of their respective generations of Jews who witnessed the creation and early years of the Jewish state, marveled year after year during this period of national Jewish holidays. Even as Diaspora Jews, as American Jews, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, and Independence Day were marked, memorialized and celebrated.
In addition to the miracle of Israel’s creation, its continued productivity; its rise to a recognized world power, given the odds opposing the Jewish state at nearly every turn and throughout the years, also stops just short of being a miracle. Jewish national independence should never be taken for granted.
What is independence?
Independence, in English, or atzmaut, in Hebrew, are gargantuan concepts.
The notion of national independence started as far back as the Enlightenment, during the 17th and 18th centuries. It began as a philosophy, which proposed that all people should be free – not controlled by or dependent on anyone. In the 18th and 19th centuries, that philosophy led to the Emancipation movement, which advocated that people should have rights and freedoms.
The French Revolution and the American Revolution were the greatest examples of this movement. This was the movement to embrace the idea that people had fundamental rights.
The dream of Jewish statehood
OUT OF that movement came the nationalisms of the 19th and 20th centuries. Most important among those nationalisms was Jewish nationalism, Zionism, the desire to create an independent self-ruling state of Jews.
The dream of creating a state and the ability to not be reliant on anyone or any power to guarantee the protection and future of that state took shape and came to fruition.
The Hebrew word for independence, as in Israel’s Independence Day, is atzmaut as in Yom Ha’atzmaut.
There is, however, another word that may have been better suited to convey the notion of independence – kommemiyut – which is best translated as independence and sovereignty.
Kommemiyut is derived from the term that means an act of establishing, building something of substance. And while that might be very appropriate for Israel’s Independence Day, it just does not have the same ring. “Yom Kommemiyut” simply does not resonate with the same poetry as does Yom Ha’atzmaut – and Hebrew is a beautiful, poetic language.
Interestingly, the term ei talut is an exact translation of “independence.” Directly translated, it means “not dependent” – not hanging alone. Again, this term is absolutely not the appropriate choice and certainly does not convey the proper imagery of Israel’s glorious creation.
Hebrew is a deep and beautiful language – not just because the Bible is written in Hebrew. It was, of course, chosen to be the language of the Jewish state because it romanticizes the past and marries the present and future in the biblical land.
One of the reasons explaining Hebrew’s beauty is the root system, which provides a foundation that allows the ability to build on the language.
For instance, “atzmaut” means much more than independence. Etzem, the foundation of atzmaut, means “power.” It also means huge, vigor, might, potency. It also means the essence of something. And it also means bone.
Atzmo, a related word from the same root, ironically means “alone” or “by one’s self.”
THE MOST important achievement of these 75 years is not that Israel, through the Jewish state’s creative energies, has impacted and contributed to the world way beyond its size and age. The most important achievement of Zionism is that Israel and the Jewish people are now self-reliant.
Yes, it is important to build bridges with others, forge relationships, and sign agreements and treaties; these partnerships are based on mutual gain. But even without them, Israel stands strong and Israel stands firm.
Israel can, and does, protect itself and all Jews around the world. The dream of Jewish nationalism is 75 years strong. It is 75 years young – may it live on and on forever.
The writer is a columnist and a social and political commentator. Watch his TV show Thinking Out Loud on the Jewish Broadcasting Service.