By Noga Brenner Samia
and Elliot Vaisrub Glassenberg
This past Wednesday night, on the eve of Independence Day, over 200 Israeli leaders, scholars, artists, educators, students and members of the general public filled Independence Hall on Rothschild Boulevard in central Tel Aviv. They gathered at the very site Israel was declared a state 67 years ago, to hear four women leaders re-read and re-interpret the Declaration of Independence. Hannah Kehat, Anat Hoffman, Orit Kamir and Hadassah Froman shared their thoughts on the nature and future of Israeli democracy inspired by and based upon the Israeli Declaration of Independence. At the same time in Jerusalem, New York, Chicago, and cities throughout Israel, hundreds more gathered to read and re-declare Israeli independence, as part of a growing phenomenon around the world known as the “We Declare” initiative.
From the street to the Knesset, from Tag Mechir (“Price Tag”) hate crimes to the Nation-State Law, democracy in Israel is facing increasing challenges. In the Diaspora, Israel has increasingly become a difficult conversation, often even breaking communities apart. Many Israelis, especially many young Israelis, along with young Jews around the world, have become alienated from the basic Jewish and democratic values upon which the State was founded. According to the latest Gutman survey only 24% of the population views Judaism and Democracy equal in importance (76% view one more important than the other, slightly higher for “Jewish”). Israeli society is fragmented and gaps between sectors are increasing. Israeli Independence Day has become devoid of meaningful content. The vision and mission of Israel and the Jewish people have not been redefined for this generation, and many feel the lack of a common narrative, which can unify our disparate society.
The Declaration of Independence is perhaps the only shared text to which all sectors of Israeli society, together with Zionist Jews around the world, can relate to some degree or another. Although the document is a source of ongoing debate among many segments of society, it is still the singular text at the core of Israel’s existence as a sovereign state. However, many Israelis – not to mention, international Jews – lack basic familiarity, appreciation and understanding of the Israeli Declaration of Independence and fail to see its relevance to their lives and the importance of the document as a formative text for this generation.
The “We Declare” initiative (a project of BINA: The Israeli Movement for Jewish Social Change) aims to restore democracy and democratic values to the forefront of Israeli and international Jewish discourse by establishing the Israeli Declaration of Independence as a principal formative inspirational text. Similar to the way the Midrash reinterpreted the Bible and the Talmud reinterpreted the Mishna as a way to renew the vision and mission of the Jewish people in times of crisis, “We Declare” applies the traditional methods of exegesis in Jewish culture towards reinterpreting the Declaration of Independence, thus generating dialogue with the past as a way to develop the narrative of the Jewish People into the future. This process aims to establish Megilat Ha’atzmaut – The Scroll of Independence – as the sixth Megila in the Hebrew tradition; just as Megilat Esther is reread and reinterpreted each Purim or Megilat Ruth each Shavuot – so too shall Megilat Ha’atzmaut be reread and redefined each Yom Ha’atzmaut.
At BINA, we envision Israel at 67 a community in which the Jewish and democratic values of the Declaration of Independence are alive and revered, and are part of the core of Jewish, Zionist, and Israeli identities of the 21st century. We invite Israelis and Jews around the world to join us in rereading the Israeli Declaration of Independence, and in declaring Israeli democracy anew.
Noga Brenner Samia is Deputy Director of BINA and a teacher at the BINA Secular Yeshiva. Elliot Vaisrub Glassenberg is the Director of International Communication at BINA and a teacher at the BINA Secular Yeshiva.
About BINA: Established in 1996, BINA is the leading organization at the intersection of Jewish pluralism and social action in Israel. BINA strives to strengthen Israel as a democratic, pluralistic and just society, through limud (study) and ma’ase (action), and by emphasizing Judaism as a culture and Jewish values of tikkun olam (repairing the world). BINA’s award winning service-learning programs, based out of our Secular Yeshiva campuses in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, bring together hundreds of young adults from across Israel and the Jewish world each year. BINA also designs and implements educational courses, seminars, workshops, events, and community programs across Israel and the Jewish world that reach over 30,000 individuals every year.