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 Yom HaAtzmaut – “But Am Yisrael?!”

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daniel eliezer

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Posts : 82
Join date : 2011-12-01
Location : Beit El, Israel

PostSubject: Yom HaAtzmaut – “But Am Yisrael?!”   Sat May 03, 2014 4:14 pm

For those who have difficulty with the transliterated Hebrew and who don't have access
to Jewish libraries, most transliterated Hebrew can probably be found through Google.
If the word is critical to what I'm saying, then it is explained.

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Yom HaAtzmaut – “But Am Yisrael?!”

Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day) in Israel is a funny day, or perhaps confusing day would be better. Exactly what it is and what it means is not decidedly clear nor universally accepted. For many it is Israel’s equivalent to the Independence Day that exists in many countries of the world, but maybe “Israel [Identification] Day” would be the best way to describe it. To the religious who participate wholeheartedly in the essence of the state, there is the fundamental need of prayer and thanksgiving for what there is. For those who do not believe that the existence of the state has any positive meaning for Am Yisrael, then thanksgiving and prayer and celebration are an anathema.

Although after more than thirty-four years of living in Israel my understandings have changed and deepened and broadened, from just about the beginning I understood Yom HaAtzmaut as a day of celebrating Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel and rejoicing in its existence; of rejoicing that God has returned us to her and that I have merited to be part of this joy. Almost every year, weather permitting, we have found some way to explore and enjoy the very physical reality of living and being in Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel.

We have never been a family that joins the masses at national parks or picnic grounds or other public places of celebrating. Some of this is because that’s just not what we are, and some of this is because our limited budget has never included a vehicle. Other than a company car here and there, we’ve been dependent upon family, friends, Egged buses, or our outstretched arms. Fortunately, we’ve usually lived in a location that’s allowed us to fill the backpacks and water bottles and then step out the door and pick a direction. Even here, in the heart of Indian territory, we have where to go; what to do and see.

Some years ago when we were living in a neighborhood in Jerusalem that doesn’t recognize Yom HaAtzmaut, we had no choice but to flee the community. Our limited means, however, and the uncertain weather created restrictions, but as you know Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel isn’t dependent upon how much of or where you see it - but upon how you see it.

Thus, in the early afternoon we chose to walk (it wasn’t big enough for a hike) the [then] small section of woodland that ran from French Hill to Sanhedria along the back of Ramat Eshkol in Jerusalem. At a comfortable and steady pace it was perhaps a half-hour of walking. We did it in some two and a half to three hours. It wasn’t that the children were young or we lazy. It’s just that almost every step of the way we found something of interest. Cries of “Abba, Ema, look at this!” or “Honey, did you see this?” or “Children, come here!” abounded as we examined flowers and rocks and bushes and trees and bugs - separately and together. It was all an equal wonder to everyone. The children weren’t yet old enough to have learned the necessary science in school to know what we were looking at, and my wife and I grew up on a different part of the planet.

But so what! A little patch of woodland that today is scarcely more than a highway buffer zone (after being cut up by highways and overrun with high tension towers) was for that day our place of very happily celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut.

The memories of this day came up some years later, after we’d left Jerusalem to live in Indian territory again. One afternoon I was returning home in a car driven by a young Beit El woman who was unknown to me. In the course of our conversation, I discovered that she had taught our oldest daughter, Na’amah, science in junior high school, and she admired Na’amah very much, particularly her keen interest in biology. Somehow our conversation jumped to the topic of holidays and vacation sites, and she related how it was their habit on those occasions to pile everything into the car and head for one of the ritual sites frequented by other like-minded holiday goers.

As I listened to her litany of ritualized vacations, because she had mentioned my daughter’s interest in biology, I decided to tell her the story of our Yom HaAtzmaut tiyul (walk/hike) in that abbreviated patch of woodland. Specifically, I elaborated on just how much our Na’amah had so exuberantly led the exploration. The driver, herself, knew the area that I talked about, and it was with some wonder that she listened to my raptures of something that was less statuesque than National Park scenery.

The road that we were traveling was one of the bypass roads created by the Oslo Piece Accords. These new roads had been cut through unpopulated and undeveloped areas on the eastern slopes of the Judean and Shomron hills. Our particular road crossed the northern Judean Desert and climbed into the Shomron hills. As we crested one hill in the road to begin our descent to the next crest, suddenly my companion, the driver, exclaimed, “It’s so beautiful! I never saw it like this before!”

She was talking about the vista, and particularly all the immediate scenery that surrounded us. Without having intended to, my rendition of our Yom HaAtzmaut tiyul had awakened her to an Eretz Yisrael that she had probably never experienced. Born, raised, and living in Eretz Yisrael for going on thirty years, she had never learned to see beyond the trite and routine. From a casual conversation she had raised her vision and SEEN.

In its own way, this story touches what is perhaps the essence of so much of what we are going through. Do we see or do we SEE? Let me explain.

In 1967 Chaim Herzog, z”l, a son of the former Chief Rabbi, Isaac HaLevi Herzog, zt”l, served in a different capacity than the one he would serve in when he became President of the State of Israel. In 1967, Chaim Herzog was a former senior officer in the IDF military intelligence. Part of his responsibilities, particularly during the spring preceding the Six Day War, was to speak on the radio. There would be a one or two sentence summary of the news and then Chaim Herzog would begin to speak. He would give a brief assessment of the [military] preparations that were being made in the various Arab countries (Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, etc.) followed by a brief review of how the IDF was responding, and he would conclude with a brief summary.

His last broadcast was on the last day of the war. I will translate from the Hebrew. (If you understand how the Queen’s English has a formality lacking in American English, try to picture Chaim Herzog, who spoke the Queen’s English, speaking Hebrew with that same formality.)

“I am speaking from a building that until three days ago was the Jordanian police headquarters on the Temple Mount [what is known today as the Wakf]. Before me I gaze across all of the Temple Mount that has been returned to us. Below me I see the incredible number of people who are streaming to the Kotel.”

He talked for a minute or two and then returned again to his opening words to conclude.
“Before me I gaze across all of the Temple Mount that has been returned to us. Below me I see the incredible number of people who are streaming to the Kotel. Outside the walls [of the Old City] lies a burnt tank that gives witness to the terrible price we’ve paid.” And then, with the following words, he concluded his broadcast, “Would that we will be worthy of it [all].”

I think that in the history of the modern State of Israel and even then in the immediate aftermath of that miraculous war and especially today Chaim Herzog’s words strike a responsive chord. It doesn’t matter if you are religious or non-religious, conservative or liberal, communist or socialist, young or old, kibbutznik or city dweller his message is heard the same and equally by all of us: “…if we will be worthy…”

I graduated high school in America in June 1967, and if there was a Six-Day War then I certainly don’t recall it, so I couldn’t have heard Chaim Herzog’s words then. When did I hear them? A year ago on a recording that had been made to perpetuate those historic moments.

Like all of those who heard the original broadcast, I, too, fully understood the implications of his closing words, yet, upon hearing them, within seconds I was filled with the greatest wrath. You see, in his words Chaim Herzog, one of Israel’s prominent leaders and a spokesman for his generation, gave vivid expression to one thing in which we so fail, to one thing that so impedes us. What he should have said was this:

“Before me I gaze across all the Temple Mount that has been returned to us. Below me I see the incredible number of people who are streaming to the Kotel.” And it is with these words that he should have concluded his broadcast, “We see [from this] just HOW WORTHY WE ARE!”

It comes across better in Hebrew, especially the understanding of what God has done for us, but the message can still be heard. With the change of a few words, we go from uncertainty to the most rapturous joy. It’s like Shlomo says, “We need the eyes of the Moshiach.” Every second of every minute of every hour of every day we need to see just how much God is giving us.

From time to time I tell this story of Chaim Herzog (whom I genuinely respect), and usually what I want to say is heard and accepted. Not long ago, however, a friend, an Israeli, insisted on arguing with me about whether we “really are worthy”. It was the culmination of three quarters of an hour of conversation in which I worked with increasing success to overcome his pessimism and defeatism. Without the slightest bit of annoyance or rancor I replied, “You’re right. You and I have the right to decide for ourselves that individually you and I are not worthy ……. “But Am Yisrael?! To say that Am Yisrael – the Jewish People are not worthy………?!”

My words hit home - literally, and I could actually feel the shift that took place inside him. This man, who is half a century in age, who had lived through the Six Day War, and who could have heard Chaim Herzog’s words, finally came to understand.

We are returning to Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel, returning from our very long Exile. But we are still not home. It is when we can clearly see what God is doing for us that the Exile will be behind us, and we will be home at last.

Shir HaMa’alot [Ps. 127:1,2]: “Sing [the song] that goes up in God’s restoring Zion; we were like dreamers. Then our mouths filled with laughter, our language pure joy….”

B’Shalom v’Yom HaAtzmaut S’meach,

Daniel Eliezer
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What I write doesn't invite comments within the topic, but I do want you to know
that all are welcome to write me should you have any questions or comments.
I can be reached at: d.e.ben.eitan@gmail.com.
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