On Israel’s 70th Birthday

On Israel’s Seventieth Birthday

by Rabbi Michael Klayman

As many of you know (and lament), Israelis continue to be battered throughout the world. Anti-Israel fervor persists on college campuses. Nations devise new and creative ways to alienate Israel – nations like Poland, which attempts to legislate Polish compliance with the Nazis out of existence. As Syria exterminates and tortures its own people, the UN so-called Human Rights Council holds Israel responsible for every possible human rights violation known to humanity.

Like any nation in the world, Israel has its severe flaws. Nevertheless, the grossly disproportionate condemnations of Israel have reached a level of gross absurdity.

By taking a quick glance at Israel’s calendar today and tomorrow, we will gain some important insight about the true Israel. I do not have exact statistics, but I imagine Israel is one of the rare nations commemorating Memorial Day and Independence Day consecutively.

Today is Israel’s Memorial Day.

At a specific time today, a siren blast brought Israel’s entire nation to a momentary standstill. I have been on an Israeli bus which stopped abruptly in the middle of a highway to honor fallen soldiers. In every city, town, and settlement, commemorations marking Israel’s fallen include reading the names of EACH soldier from that specific town/city killed in every battle. Most Israelis participate in some form of Memorial Day activity.

Can we say likewise about America, where Memorial Day is often characterized by vacation or department store discounts?

The loss of one soldier in Israel is a cause for national pain. Golda Meir once said (I paraphrase) that Israel can forgive its Arab enemies for killing Israelis but Israel can never forgive its neighbors for making Israelis kill them. In Israel, each individual loss brings a palpable sense of pain. Were Israel able to live within secure borders, there would be no war. Had Israel’s neighbors ever put down their weapons, there would have been peace long ago. It is true that with the 1967 Six Day War Israel became an ‘occupier’; and with occupation arose many serious problems which still persist. Yet, go throughout Israel and you will find throngs of people who publicly criticize their government for insufficient attempts at peace. Where in any neighboring Arab nation does such a phenomenon exist?

What adds to Israel’s collective conscience is the fact that Independence Day (Yom Ha’atz’ma’ut) immediately follows Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron).

Most nations isolate their independence day celebrations so that the nation can truly enjoy a day of pure joy. With Israel, Independence Day and Memorial Day are necessarily and inextricably intertwined; one cannot exist with the other. Every celebration is tinged with pain; Israelis can only celebrate after first remembering each soldier who fought to insure Israel’s survival. Revelry will not exist in a vacuum; celebration and memorial are indelibly linked. One cannot celebrate without feeling the absence of a parent, sibling, child, friend and neighbor who sacrificed his/her life to insure Jewish survival.

Tomorrow, Israel celebrates its seventieth anniversary. Despite the condemnations, the struggles and the ever-present challenges, this tiny country has some remarkable achievements on its national resume. Nations which never miss an opportunity to be critical have benefited from Israeli achievements (often for reasons of which they are unaware). Nations which have experienced national disasters discovered how Israel was often among the first in the world to provide aid. Nations which question the status of immigrants can look to Israel to find a nation embracing people from throughout the world. Israel welcomes them and THEN looks for ways to provide housing and jobs. The people take precedence.

The criticisms of Israel will not cease; whether in the media, by governments or among people who frequently need reminding about suffering throughout the globe. I would, however, suggest to all the above that they take a look at how Israel observes these next two days.

Then, maybe – just maybe – some of the critics will experience a moment of clarity.

Yom Huledet Sameach! Happy 70th to a remarkable nation!

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Klayman