I suppose anyone living in a place with individuals who were alive before the founding of the country they live in maintains a greater sense of appreciation for what it took for that land to exist. Those living in the aftermath of the founding of the United States probably felt this way. The first century was not an easy one for America, but the founders of the country still permeated the land, either in person or in spirit. The same can be said of Israel. There are individuals whose facade would not indicate anything out of the ordinary, yet upon further research, one might uncover that this person fought bravely for the nascent Jewish state to exist. Last year, a documentary titled “Ben-Gurion: Epilogue” was released. It was created from 6 hours of archived footage from a 1968 interview by BBC with the founding Israeli leader, and it’s an absolutely scintillating production. There were no film crews around to press George Washington or any of the other founding fathers on his thoughts regarding the founding of the United States of America. Memoirs or letters that have been published on the topic are not able to capture what the video is able to do. Seeing Ben Gurion react to a question, give brutally honest, poignant answers while perched in his compound in Sde Boker. It adds a tremendous layer of appreciation for the day.
In a similar vein, at my graduation from Yeshiva University, Ambassador Yehuda Avner, having just finished his magnum opus, The Prime Ministers, gave the keynote address. His account was not only that of a historian studying the events, nor was it exclusively one of someone living at the time the events occurred. He himself played a role in history as it was unfolding. Speaking lovingly about this previous chapter in his life was anything buy history: it was nostalgia. Avner was not reading pages from his book to assembled masses, but from his firsthand account in his mind. You could hear the history in his voice.
My feelings on this day are a mix of happiness, hope, and a significant amount of gratitude. I’m happy that I live in a world where the Jewish state of Israel is a burgeoning nation, a reality that was not a given for my grandparents and generations before them. I am hopeful for an even greater future on the horizon of our Homeland. I know Israel is imperfect, just as every single nation that has or will come into being is or will be. Change, while difficult, is easier than beginning anew in a different land with absolutely nothing. Finally, the gratitude, which is owed to God, and to those who came before and worked the land that I love so much.
These thoughts are summed up more eloquently by Rabbi Yehuda Amital, the founding Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion (recorded in The Religious Significance of the State of Israel [Alei Etzion 14] and Commitment and Complexity):
“Despite the many problems the State faces, we may not ignore the great miracles we experienced at the time of its establishment. Analogously, although the Hasmonean state was far from perfect, its establishment (and the return of Jewish sovereignty, albeit limited) was nevertheless a cause for celebration, as the Rambam emphasizes. The Rambam (Commentary to the Mishna, Yoma 1:3) knew very well the inauspicious character of the Hasmonean kings:
But in the time of the Second Temple, things were imperfect, as is well known – the kings did not follow the correct tradition and they would appoint the High Priest by force, even though he was unworthy…
Nevertheless, he felt that the establishment of the Hasmonean monarchy constitutes the main reason behind the celebration of Chanuka (Hilkhot Chanuka 3:1-3):
The High Priests of the Hasmonean family were victorious and killed [the Greeks], thus saving Israel from their hands. They established a king from among the priests, and monarchy returned to Israel for over two hundred years… Because of this, the scholars of that generation instituted that these eight days, starting from the twenty-fifth of Kislev, shall be days of joy and praise.
The Second Temple period thus serves as a legitimate model by which we may assess the contemporary Jewish State, a half-century after its establishment. However imperfect, one cannot overlook the many positive elements of our independent national existence. Our leaders today are no worse than the Hasmonean kings, and our country is no worse than theirs was. To the contrary, our leadership and society often exhibit moral qualities far superior to those of the Hasmonean dynasty.”
There are those who say Hallel, with or without a bracha, or even recite a Shehechiyanu or Al HaNissim to mark the religious significance of Yom HaAtzmaut. Whether one adds these additions to their daily routine is of little importance to me, so long as we uphold the strong recognition to the Almighty for enabling the state of Israel to exist. I yield again to Rav Amital from this same work:
“How can we not thank the Almighty for all the kindness that He has showered upon us? First and foremost, the State of Israel serves as a safe haven for five million Jews. After the nightmare of the Holocaust, hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees wandered around the globe, finding a home and refuge only in Israel. The State has contributed an incalculable amount to the restoration of Jewish pride after the devastating chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s Name) caused by the Holocaust. Today, too, the State plays an enormous role in the Jewish identity of our brethren throughout the world. For so many of them, the emotional attachment to the State remains the final thread connecting them to the Jewish People and to the God of Israel.
I spoke earlier of Rav Kook’s inability to come to terms with the establishment of a state that would not bring to fruition the ultimate destiny of redemption. This led him to claim that the impending State of Israel was to be the ideal State of the period of ge’ula (redemption). But don’t all the critical functions fulfilled by the State of Israel (as listed above) justify its existence, even if it has not developed into the ideal community? After the traumatic destruction of the Holocaust, which Rav Kook could not possibly have foreseen, the State played a critical role in the restoration and revitalization of the Jewish people. It is hard to imagine what the Jewish nation would look like today if, Heaven forbid, the State of Israel had not emerged.
I experienced the horror of the destruction of European Jewry, and I can thus appreciate the great miracle of Jewish rebirth in our homeland. Are we not obligated to thank the Almighty for His kindness towards us? Unquestionably! And not just on Yom Ha-atzma’ut; each day we must recite Hallel seven times for the wonders and miracles He has performed on our behalf: “I praise you seven times each day!” (Tehillim 119:164).”
Rav Amital concludes:
“We remain very, very far from the ideal Jewish State, and we must therefore do whatever we can to bring about its realization. A more just society and stronger public values are necessary prerequisites for its actualization. If we want to hasten the ultimate redemption, we must work harder to ensure moral values on both the individual and communal levels. Closing the social gaps, concern for the vulnerable elements of society, fighting poverty, respectful treatment of the non-Jews in Israel – all these measures will bring us closer to the day for which we long. We hope and believe that our State will develop into the ideal Jewish State, “the foundation of the Divine Throne in the world, whose entire desire is that God shall be One and His Name shall be One.”
I cannot imagine what the landscape of world Jewry would resemble without the state of Israel. Our hope, our longing has gnawed at us as a nation for so long. Seventy years to a child seems like an eternity. In the grand scheme of life, it’s a mere second.
Pirkei Avos teaches us that at the age of seventy, one achieves a sense of satiety, as referenced to David HaMelech who died at that age “beseivah Tovah” (Divrei HaYamim I 29:28). The state of Israel does indeed have much to be satisfied about. Eretz Yisrael, as little a country as it is, punches far above her weight in terms of impacting the rest of the world. Setting aside all else that our tiny medinah has done for the rest of the world, I shudder to think about the fate of our people had the State not been declared 70 years ago. Where would we go? Where would our safe haven be? Nevertheless, the Mishnah does not stop at seventy, and continues to rattle off adages for other ages through 100. The message, to me, is clear. Although we can look back and recount the miracles brought by God in order to bring the state of Israel to be – the pioneers making the desert bloom (even before the state was established!), teaching simple tailors and shoemakers to fly planes and evolve into an effective army leading to unbelievable and improbable military victories – there is much more that the Jewish homeland can and will no doubt accomplish.
Thank you Hashem for the gift of Israel!