Navigating Independence

JAFI shlichim : Israel flagby Yonatan Ariel

In these days, there is a striking difference between being in Israel and not being in Israel. I feel it amongst my friends and colleagues. Those Jewish educators, rabbis and activists who live around the world – passionately committed to Israel as they are – often find it difficult to reshape their routines and regular social practices. Unlike their kindred spirits in Israel who overwhelmingly refrain from frivolous or disconnected emails or Facebook posts on Yom HaZikkaron, when you live overseas the norm is naturally different. And when it comes to Yom HaAtzmaut, the current dissatisfaction with Israel’s policies mutes the celebration.

To develop major and minor customs and traditions filled with significance is an anthropological need for the Jewish People in our generation. As the late Rav Yehuda Amital said to combat soldiers in the 1973 Yom Kippur War:

“It says in Psalms (145:18): “God is near to all those who call Him – to all who call Him in truth.” Anyone who truly calls, whether religious or not. Neither I, as a Rosh Yeshiva, nor my students and friends, your comrades-in-arms, represent God any more than you do. Whose prayer comes nearer to God – the prayer of someone like me who was trained in it from childhood, or your prayer, which you discovered in the heat of battle? Only God knows … a sincere prayer that originates in the depths and flows forth from there, even if the words are stammered, is heard at the highest heights. King David wrote in one of his psalms (130:2), “God! Listen in to my voice; may Your ears be attentive to the sound of my supplication.” A great Hasidic master once pointed out that it does not say “listen to my voice (shema koli),” rather “listen in to my voice (shema be-koli)” – listen to what is hidden within the notes of my voice, what I could not articulate in words.”

Due to the raw ache of the day, we need to work harder at listening in to the voices between the lines of Israeli pain.

And then we experience the aggressive disjuncture to Independence Day. To my mind Jews should celebrate Israel on Yom HaAtzmaut in the same spirit as we celebrate the Torah on Simchat Torah. Once a year, we sing, dance, kiss, eat and drink to the significance of the Torah – “for it is our life and the length of our days”. And then we spend hours upon hours, days upon days, in our study circles and in our Batei Midrash debating relentlessly the plausible, disturbing and potential interpretations of each and every word, and how we navigate around them.

Likewise we should spend hours and days earnestly attending to Israel’s issues, topics and flaws. It is a moral imperative to better Israel and to figure out ways to enable Israel to reach higher. And we should take time each year to give ourselves the oxygen of hope – to pause and spend Yom HaAtzmaut in song and dance celebrating the remarkable efforts of all of those who have brought Israel to this season, with the awe and wonder of what it means “to be a free people in our land”.

We need a Chag Atzmaut (Independence Festival) – that prompts and captures the full range of emotions that is Israel in our lives.

Yonatan Ariel is the Executive Director of Makom – the Israel Education Lab of The Jewish Agency.