How Ami Magazine Convinced Me to Celebrate Yom Ha-Atzmaut
The editorial in Ami did not promote such celebration, of course. It provided an original and thought-provoking reason to celebrate its non-celebration, so to speak. Survivors of the Holocaust would naturally take great comfort in seeing the creation of the State as a Divine Hand reaching down to comfort the bedraggled remnant of the Jewish people. It took principled courage, claims the author, to resist what he calls “the comforting interpretation of Jewish history.” Survivors refused the convenience of such an interpretation of the events around them out of fealty to their religious convictions, which had no room for a secular state replacing the yearnings of the Jewish soul. (You can and should read the original, which is posted here.)
The implication is that those who continue to ignore Israel’s Independence Day act in the same spirit today. “It [Yom Ha-Atzmaut] was celebrated last week throughout the world by countless Jewish people, though not by many in the Orthodox Jewish community. Yom Ha-Atzmaut is generally either ignored or treated with disdain by most Orthodox Jews.”
The piece has generated vigorous discussion. Is it true that most Orthodox Jews ignore Yom Ha-Atzmaut? Do not a majority of Jews who accept the Thirteen Principles of Faith, i.e. the Rambam’s definition of who is an “insider,” in fact celebrate the day? (We should probably accept the author’s protestation that by “Orthodox” he meant “charedi,” and was guilty of poor word choice, but not malice.) Is it true that “subsequent…military action stirred additional rabbinic opposition to Zionism, and was seen as proof that the Zionist idea was, from a perspective of Jewish tradition, illicit from the start?” Wasn’t this just the reaction of Satmar and Brisk, and in fact rejected in all other Torah circles? Can the position of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik be reduced to nothing more than seeing the State as “a buffer against assimilation,” while dismissing “the idea that its creation was in any way associated with the concept of redemption?” Does Rav Kook merit any attention at all? Did the author ever see the newsreels of Novemeber, 1947 (the reaction to the UN partition vote), with circles of charedim and secular Jews dancing together in unbridled joy? They don’t really support the conclusion of a wholesale charedi rejection of the State. Nor does the signature of R Itche Meir Levin on Israel’s Declaration of Independence, nor all of those who did mark the first few anniversaries of the Declaration with joy and thanks to Hashem.
I will leave to others to develop those objections, and turn to one that I believe may be the most serious flaw in the editorial. Even if the facts would have been as the author has them (and I do not believe that this is the case), they would have little relevance to us today.
Yom Ha-Atzmaut is not a celebration of secular Zionism, or any kind of Zionism. It is the celebration of the coming into existence of an independent Jewish community – no, nation – in the land that is ours. Israel is the largest Jewish community in the world. Its continued existence, its thriving against all odds, is a gift from Heaven. It can, should, must be appreciated as an enormous chesed from HKBH, Who allows us to live in our holy Land and work again to slowly build up a Jewish nation. How can we fail to acknowledge the incredible saga, past and present of rov minyan and rov binyan of the Jewish people? What do we do to ourselves when we stand to the side as literally millions of Jews celebrate in their own way (even if not the way we would have designed such celebration), and we do not feel their simple joy of being Jewish? What damage do we foist on future generations of our people, as we propagate division and dissension by not smiling at them and saying “Chag Sameach,” even if it is not mentioned in Parshas Emor?
The author cited Rav Soloveitchik, and I will do so as well. Among other things, I admired (albeit from a distance, since I never attended YU) two elements in his life and thought that are actually intertwined. The first is that he was capable of changing his mind. He was an Agudah firebrand at one point, but he jumped ship. That doesn’t happen to gedolim in our revisionist biographies; it does happen to real people.
The second is his finding that halacha has its protocols of psak, which determine how to decide between competing positions. History, he said, is what sometimes determines the outcome of hashkafic debates. In the debate over the significance of the Jewish State, history was machria that it is significant.
This is not dependent on the ideology that is called Zionism. Many years ago, I heard a young rosh yeshiva argue that all of us were like the Japanese soldiers who remained holed up on Pacific islands many years after the end of World War Two, still keeping guard at their posts. They were living a war that had already ended. There was a war for the heart and soul of the Jewish people between secular Zionists and those faithful to Torah. Secular Zionism lost that battle! We in the Torah community should have declared victory and moved on! We now have a country of our own, and we should take our places in its development, without fear of supporting an ideology that died a long time ago. Yom Ha-Atzmaut is not about ideology today – it is about the privilege of having a place where we need bow to nothing but Hashem. Recall the words of the Rambam (Chanuka 3:1) writing about why Chanuka was important: “Jewish governance returned to for more than two hundred years, till the churban.” Those two centuries were presided over by rulers a good deal more evil than the people sitting in Knesset.
When I left kollel, I was an anti-zionist kana’i. I’m not sure if there is much of the old-style Zionism left to oppose. Today, there is only the reality of a world in which, as the Satmar Rov once said, “When they say Zionist, they mean us.” Like it or not, that exasperating, poorly governed, socially divided patch of land is seen by the rest of the world as identical with world Jewry. I support the State not because of speculative ideology, but because of the certainty that I want to defend Yidden. For many years, I felt jealous of those who could celebrate on Yom Ha-Atzmaut, who could share the thanks, the concerns for the future, and the joy. My previous training left no room for it. Gradually, I made some room. (I don’t say Hallel, because I am not bowled over by the arguments to do so. I do say tachanun, and don’t see any contradiction. I attended the local Consular affair, but left deliberately before the musical entertainment, because of Sefirah.) But I always looked over my shoulder, feeling a bit uncomfortable. As a yeshiva-trained Jew, did I belong there?
Ami’s piece was so wrong, that I now have reason to shake off the discomfort. That is important, because when you cannot bring yourself to sincerely join in the aspirations, dreams and joy of other Jews, it becomes so much easier to write them off as “the other.” It bcomes that much easier to see yourselves as the only legitimate emissaries of G-d. From there, you and your friends can spiral out of control, taking over neighborhoods and schools contemptuously, or wearing Auschwitz uniforms in Kikar Shabbos.
Faced with the choice of celebrating with people whose religious outlook I do not share, or accepting an outlook that is too narrow and off-putting to be true, I will go with the former.
Thank you, Ami, for making life a bit less worrisome.