May 4, 2022
“Embracing the Blessing and Bearing Its Burden!!”
The Land of Israel is the sacred inheritance of the Jewish People.
That we have been able to return after 2,000 years of exile is a modern day miracle. In a mere 74 years, we have blossomed beyond all expectations, making the land green (the land truly does respond when it is in Jewish hands) and developing in a dozen spheres.
Israel is the only Jewish state in the world.
We function on Jewish time, and with a Jewish ethos. That ethos is marked by a dedication to reaching out to others in times of trouble, and an eagerness to share our innovations. The breadth of the ways in which we provide assistance is enormous.
Noted attorney Alan Dershowitz said: “No country in the history of the world ever contributed more to the welfare of humankind in such a short period of time than Israel.”
Our people have returned to Israel from over 70 nations, and so our population is exceptionally diverse and our culture vibrant: the foods, the customs. Anyone who imagines Israelis are all “white” should come and see the various hues of our skin colors for themselves.
Our social relationships are marked by informality and a democratic spirit – it is acceptable to challenge authority. In addition, our culture encourages asking of questions: the traditional mode by which Jewish texts have always been studied has honed skills that now make us uniquely adept at problem solving. These cultural inclinations are at the heart of our singular ability to innovate.
“Only in Israel” stories of people reaching out with kindness are common. In an interview that was carried in the JPost Magazine for Yom Ha’atzmaut, President Yitzhak Herzog says it so well:
“I am in awe of our nation,” he explains. This is because of the hundreds and thousands of people who work to empower the weak, lift up the poor, and strengthen the nation’s resistance. He cites as example the man who gets up at 3 a.m. to organize Shabbat meals for those in need. “You ask yourself, where does this come from? And you realize that there are so many people like this who are just doing good.”
President Herzog refers to this as the “secret power” of Israel.
The resilience of Israelis, their determination to choose life, even in the face of great hardship – to not only continue but to live with purpose – is awe-inspiring.
What I have noted for years, and written about often, is the extraordinary inclination of Israelis, when struck by the loss of a loved one – family or friend – in the course of a terror attack, to do good in memory of that person. Often there is a cry to build – build a new community, establish a garden, strengthen a yeshiva. Sometimes there is establishment of a foundation to help others – the Koby Foundation and Keren Malki come quickly to mind in this regard.
This year Israel has been ranked as the 9th happiest nation in the world (up from 11th place). This in and of itself is remarkable, given the challenges Israel faces. One commentator argues that Israel should be ranked first, because, as he put it, the top ten are not “in the thick of it,” but rather “cocoon-like places” facing very little in the way of international challenges. Israel ranks up there in spite of contending with such issues as genocidal calls for our destruction.
I believe our happiness derives from a deep sense of meaning, and of connectedness – the feeling of being part of something larger than oneself.
Israelis have the highest birthrate in the Western world, and a significantly higher birthrate than the other countries that are ranked in the top 10 for happiness. Thus is Israeli culture child-centered.
This is an expression of hope and faith in the future: In spite of everything, faith in the future.
Not incidentally, Israelis know how to say, “Thanks to God.”
And so, today we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut – Independence Day. On 5 Iyar 5708, David Ben Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the modern State of Israel. In 1948, that fell on May 14.
This year we are celebrating on 4 Iyar, May 4, so as to not run into Shabbat on Friday evening with celebrations. We began last night with prayer, and singing of Hallel (a collection of psalms of celebration and thanksgiving), and fireworks. There was the lighting of 12 torches, for the 12 tribes, in official ceremony. This morning, a highlight is a fantastic fly-over of various military planes on display with in the skies across Israel, this year including Judea & Samaria, and, notably, Hevron and Kiryat Arba.
In 1948, Israel’s population was 806,000; today it stands at 9.506 million: 7.021 million Jews (73.9 percent), 2.007 million Arabs (21.1 percent) and 478,000 other citizens (5 percent). This burgeoning population is not exclusively the result of high birth rates; there was also that historical influx of Jews from around the world. This is another way in which Israel has excelled: absorbing more immigrants per capita than any other nation.
In spite of Covid, aliyah was up by more than 30% in 2021, with over 20,000 people becoming Israeli citizens. Today we are also absorbing tens of thousands of Ukrainian and Russian Jews, who are fleeing war or tense circumstances.
There is one other significant way in which Israel is unique, and this is with regard to our burden. I don’t believe there is another nation in the world that has had to defend its right to exist time and again, as we are called upon to do.
We will leave aside here – to be dealt with in other postings – the lawfare, the biased UN positions, the lies continually told about us, BDS and more.
The bottom line is that Arab states objected to Israel’s founding at the get-go, and immediately went to war. In the intervening years, until this very day, while the situation has improved, there has not been true peace for our nation. There have been other wars, and periods of intense terror attacks – such as the attacks we are enduring at this moment.
This is also part of the miracle, because we won wars that logic says we should not have won, and keep going, and growing, in the face of the terrorism.
But what this also means, very simply, is that a great measure of sacrifice has been required of our citizens – those civilians murdered in terror attacks and those soldiers who have fought bravely in our wars and continue to defend us.
And so, before we can celebrate our independence, we must honor the memories of those who sacrificed for the sake of Israel:
The day before Yom Ha’atzmaut is Yom HaZikaron – Memorial Day. Yesterday we honored the 24,068 soldiers who have died protecting Israel (56 have been added to the list since last year), and the 3,190 civilians who have died in terror attacks.
It began with a siren at nightfall, followed by another at 11 a.m. The day was powerful, and painful, solemn in its impact. So many have lost a family member or friend, or know someone else who has.
There were official ceremonies, and then the visits to the graves of those who have been lost. There are 52 military cemeteries in Israel, starting with the one at Har Herzl (pictured below) and military sections in civilian cemeteries as well. Every grave had an Israel flag placed on it.
Civilians by the many tens of thousands visit the graves of their loved ones. (There are volunteers who visit the graves of soldiers long dead, who have no one to mourn them, lest they be neglected.)
Those in uniform, remembering their fellow soldiers who fell, also mourn. The bonds established between those training, and as necessary fighting, side-by-side, are very strong.
The transition between the mourning of Yom HaZikaron and the rejoicing of Yom Ya’atzmaut is very sudden: it comes with a siren at sundown.
The juxtaposition of one day with the other is deliberate and sends a potent message: Without the sacrifices, there would be no rejoicing, and no Israel. After we weep, we must lift our spirits and sing; it is what our soldiers, who are gone, would want us to do.
They gave their all, and their family and friends, suffer still, missing them. And so, I honor them – the soldiers, and their families.
All soldiers at the end of combat training take a pledge: They are prepared to die for their country, if it should be necessary.
I share this video to salute them:
There is much that is wrong with our country at present at a political level. Anyone who reads my material knows how I see it. There is a great deal that needs to be fixed. (I will return to this theme in my next posting.)
But beneath the distress and the worry, there is a strong conviction that we will get through this and come to better times. That is because of the marvelous character of Israel – the inner resilience and faith in the future, the determination to do good, as I describe it above.
And because we have magnificent soldiers who train hard and are prepared to defend us.
Most of all, because we are part of an ongoing miracle.
For all of this I say, Baruch Hashem! (Bless/thank the Almighty)
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.