Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"Special Words"

Arlene Kushner

Last night I attended services for Yom Ha'Atzmaut at my synagogue in Jerusalem. And what a service it was: with a joyous musical Hallel -- a selection of psalms of praise -- complete with guitars, tambourines, and even shofarot.

For many the celebration evoked a grateful recognition of what it means to be in the Land -- and in Jerusalem, the Holy City -- to mark the founding of the modern Jewish State. To be part of our people's historic and holy journey here is a matter of profound significance.


My synagogue uses the Koren Siddur (prayerbook). In the special section for Yom Ha'Atzmaut I found commentary that was particularly insightful. I have decided to share selections with all of you. (All emphases has been added.):


"Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day, marks the moment when the Jewish people recovered their independence and sovereignty after a lapse of some two thousand years. The longest exile ever endured by a people was at end...Jews had once against returned to the arena of history as a self-determining nation in the land to which Abraham journeyed in his day, and Moses and the Israelites in theirs. "The significance of Israel to Judaism is more than geographical, historical and political. It is spiritual. Israel was and is the Holy Land to which Abraham and his descendants were summoned to create a new kind of society, based on the sanctity of human life and the equal dignity of all, where they would be subject to the sovereignty of God alone, constantly conscious of the Divine Presence while striving to be true to the covenant that charged them with being 'a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'

"...Though Jews, in the long centuries of their dispersion, were scatted over the face of the earth, only in Israel have they formed a majority and been able to rule and defend themselves. Only in Israel can a Jew speak a Jewish language, see a Jewish landscape, walk where our ancestors walked and continue the story they began. Only in Israel have Jews been able to live as a nation shaping its own destiny...

"Jews were the first to see God in history, to see the unfolding of events as a meaningful narrative, the ongoing story of the covenant between God and His people. The celebration of Yom Ha'Atzmaut as a religious festival is part of this faith. Never before had a people survived so long an exile, its identity intact. Never before had a nation that had not known sovereignty for two millennia recovered it again. Ravaged [as the Jewish people had been] by the Holocaust a mere three years earlier, the declaration of Israel's independence was a remarkable act of faith, an everlasting symbol of the victory of life over death, hope over despair.

"Some thirty-three centuries ago, Moses prophesied: 'Even if you have been dispersed to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back.' (Deut. 30:4) and so it happened. If, as we believe, there are events that bear the signature of Heaven, this surely was one. Therefore we give thanks to God for bringing the land back to the people, and the people back to the land -- the land where our people was born in ancient times, and reborn in ours."


I want to share a special video, "The Volunteers: Answering the Call of History," a most appropriate film for Yom Ha'Atzmaut (with appreciation to Michael P. for calling it to my attention):


The film records the personal stories of people who went to Israel to help the beleaguered and struggling new state in 1948. It is remarkable for its recounting of the courage, and in some cases ingenuity, of these volunteers; it is a piece of the history of Israel's founding.

I invite you to view this, and then tell me that -- given the odds Israel faced in the beginning, articulated in this film -- her survival and success are not miraculous.


This video and others are part of an "Eyewitness 1948" series produced by Toldot Israel and the History Channel in the US.

According to its website, Toldot Israel is a Jerusalem based nonprofit dedicated to recording and sharing the firsthand testimonies of the men and women who helped found the State of Israel. Over 500 video interviews have been conducted with those who were involved during the pre-State struggle and the momentous events of 1948 . There are plans to do hundreds more interviews and to utilize them for a website, educational material and films.

At http://www.toldotyisrael.org/Toldot_Yisrael/Eyewitness.html you can find the video on the volunteers and others.


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

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