If you do the sums, a considered evaluation will inform you that Israel’s presence on the world stage as a Jewish state is an anomaly. Despite 5 major wars, two intifadas, suicide bombings, ongoing rocket attacks and the threat of nuclear war Israel not only survives, it thrives.
In just over a week we will celebrate 64 years of Israel’s establishment as a Jewish state. We will begin those celebrations not with a party but with sombre reflection as to how we arrived at this extraordinary place. As noted by Daniel Gordis in his book “Saving Israel” it was the establishment of the state of Israel that saw three new “holidays” added to the Jewish calendar which had otherwise remained unchanged for centuries. “For two thousand years prior to the creation of the State of Israel, the complex array of holidays that had long been at the core of the Jewish calendar had not changed. None had been removed. None had been added...The calendar... had endured almost entirely unaltered for twenty centuries. Then Israel was born.”
The first of the three additional holidays is Yom Hashoah when we commemorate the six million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis and their all too willing accomplices. The second is Yom Hazikaron where we as a community come together to remember the soldiers and civilians whose lives were lost fighting for our State; we consider the price paid, we honour it, we mourn it and understand its continued necessity. The third is Yom Ha’atzmaut where we celebrate the establishment of the State of Israel.
When these three holidays were added to the calendar it was recognised that the timing of them was critical. The celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut could not be held in isolation. During the Pesach seder we sang and reflected upon being slaves in Egypt and being delivered into freedom. In our own lifetimes freedom came to the Jewish people with the establishment of the State of Israel and for this freedom the Jewish people paid a price and continue to pay a price.
Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron are painful holidays, excruciating for many confronted with the harsh reality of their loss. And then almost seamlessly we compel ourselves to move from heartache to joy. Daniel Gordis again: “The transition, the movement from the unspeakable pain of loss to an almost giddy celebration of independence is agonising, virtually impossible; but people force themselves to make it...Somehow not to force oneself to leave the cemetery and join the party would be to deny the very essence of what Jewish statehood has created.”
These three new holidays are at the heart of what it is to have a Jewish State and how we should revere it. Through the mechanism of the UN the world finally saw fit to support the creation of the Jewish state if not as an act of justice for the longest displaced nation on earth then as an act of contrition for the absence of any appropriate intervention during the Holocaust. At last the Jewish people had a state of their own whose borders would never be closed to anyone fleeing persecution.
And what a lot we have to celebrate! Israel may not be perfect; its decisions will continue to divide opinion across the political spectrum but it is a country where those opinions can be debated vociferously unlike anywhere else in the region. It is a country founded on Jewish values of independence, learning and striving to be the best one can be. It is a country that has embraced the immigration of Jews no matter the colour of their skin, their level of observance, their language or their customs. It is a country that has excelled in all manner of scientific and technological advances and that has done so to the benefit of humankind as a whole.
So we urge you on these special days of the Jewish calendar whether in the privacy of your home or together as a community to contemplate the meaning of these days what has been lost and what has been achieved. Because despite all the odds Israel thrives and we as a Jewish community are the safer and stronger for it.
Sam Tatarka – President, Zionist Council of Victoria
Liora Miller – Honorary Secretary, Zionist Council of Victoria