Just Glad to Be Living in Israel
Living most of my life in the United States, I knew Israel’s independence was not something to take for granted, and indeed to be celebrated at every opportunity. Nevertheless, with the pace of life there not focused on Israeli holidays, the ability to celebrate and commemorate Israel’s independence sometimes conflicted with business meetings, kids’ activities and other day to day challenges. I remember my rabbi imploring us to attend annual community-wide Yom Haatzmaut celebrations, but also remember that even in the community in which I lived – one rich in opportunities to live a full Jewish life – the attendance at these events struck me as being far too low for a community of its size and commitment.
Since making aliyah, I have seen something new. Even with all the differences within Israeli society, the fear that we are in a post-Zionist era, and the challenges of life in Israel, celebrating Israel’s independence is done with a sense of pride, joy and such a level of spirit. It is truly inspiring.
Beginning with Passover, and leading up to Yom Haatzmaut, Israel decks itself out in blue and white. Highways are lined with flags. Kites fly bearing the blue and white. Small flags fit with a plastic clip for your car are sold at major intersections. Last year I adorned my car with 60 to the delight of many passers-by. It will be 61 this year, of course. Newspaper ads become patriotic and use blue and white regularly, and the weekend papers have free inserts of Israeli flags.
The Yom Haatzmaut celebration in my new community is emotional. The past two years my wife and I have left with a lump in our throats from the feelings of pride and awe at being able to live in Israel, to raise our children here, and to build for the future. Fireworks are seen throughout the country, just as on July 4th in the US. Other than religious holidays when work is prohibited, Yom Haatzmaut may be the only day that no newspapers are printed.
Family celebrations are varied, but many involve finding a patch of grass somewhere and setting up a portable barbecue to picnic into the night. We add Hallel to our prayers offering God special thanks for this milestone.
But based on living most of my life in the Diaspora where it was often a challenge to carve out time to acknowledge, much less actually celebrate the holiday, it strikes me that there are no formal rituals associated with celebrating Israel’s independence.
So I started wondering, what could be done after six decades to mark Israel’s independence in a way that is perhaps more universal, and even to facilitate a five minute pause in the life of someone overseas who wants to celebrate Israel’s independence, but for whom the pace of life is more about the daily grind rather than the festive nature we have in Israel.
Thinking about the meaning of what we are celebrating, the message I hope my children will take with them forever, I realized that though the words of Hallel are meaningful, perhaps we needed something more contemporary. Building on an element of the Passover Seder, I came up with “Yom Haatzmaut Dayeinu.”
IF God had only given us Herzl’s will to dream, and not given us the Zionist Congresses, it would have been enough. Dayeinu.
IF God had only given us the Zionist Congresses and not given us the 1917 Balfour Declaration affirming the reestablishment of a Jewish home in the Land of Israel, it would have been enough. Dayeinu.
IF God had only given us the Balfour Declaration and not created the spark for early waves of aliyah to dry the swamps, irrigate the Land and build our country, it would have been enough. Dayeinu.
IF God had only given us the spark to ignite waves of early aliyah to build our country and not taken us out of the ashes of the Holocaust, it would have been enough. Dayeinu.
IF God had only taken us out of the ashes of the Holocaust and not continued the ingathering of the exiles from the four corners of the earth, it would have been enough. Dayeinu.
IF God had only continued the ingathering of the exiles and not given us the 1947 UN Partition Vote to create the State of Israel, it would have been enough. Dayeinu.
IF God had only given us the 1947 UN Partition Vote and not enabled our victory in the War of Independence and our Declaration of Independence, it would have been enough. Dayeinu.
IF God had only enabled our victory to establish and declare independence, and not restored Jewish sovereignty to the Land for the first time in 2000 years, it would have been enough. Dayeinu.
IF God had only restored Jewish sovereignty to the Land and not built us a thriving democracy, it would have been enough. Dayeinu.
IF God had only built our democracy and not helped us overcome our enemies’ attempts to destroy us in 1956, 1967, 1970, 1973, 1982, 2006 and even today, it would have been enough. Dayeinu.
IF God had only helped us overcome our enemies’ attempts to destroy us and not returned the Jews of Ethiopia to their homeland, rescuing black Africans from slavery in Africa to freedom, it would have been enough. Dayeinu.
IF God had only returned the Jews of Ethiopia to their homeland and not enabled the aliyah of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union, it would have been enough. Dayeinu.
IF God had only enabled the aliyah of Soviet Jews and not reunified our Holy City, Jerusalem, it would have been enough. Dayeinu.
IF God had reunified Jerusalem and not made Israel a world leader in medical, biotech and high tech fields – a modern light unto the nations – it would have been enough. Dayeinu.
IF God had only made Israel a world leader in technology, and not continued to bless Israel with His promise to build Jewish life for eternity, it would have been enough. Dayeinu.
So let us pause on this special day to remember these and many other miracles that God has done for Israel, and that we magnify every day just by living as Jews in our homeland. Dayeinu.
Happy Independence Day Israel. Chag sameach.
Yonatan Ben-Natan has a long and distinguished career in the field of non-profit, Jewish communal and organizational development. Most recently the Israel Representative of the American Friends of Magen David Adom, he has worked for the Israel Anti Drug Abuse Foundation, Jerusalem Graduate School of Management, UJA Federation of New York, the Jerusalem College of Technology (Machon Lev), Yeshiva University, ORT, United Jewish Appeal and the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Mr. Ben-Natan received his B.A. from Emory University and his MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He made aliyah from New Jersey with his wife and 6 children in the summer of 2005.