Reflections from Rabbi René on Yom Maatzmaut and Yom HaZikaron

Israel has marked its 73d birthday on Wednesday evening and Thursday. Yom Maatzmaut, Independence Day, is a moment of great celebration, with a magnificent tekes, ceremony, on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. People from all other the country and from the diaspora come to Jerusalem to rejoice in the rebirth of a Jewish State and to acknowledge its many achievements. I attended such a ceremony in 2010, and it left an indelible mark on me. The day before, Yom haZikaron, Remembrance Day, the entire country comes together and mourns the victims of the many wars Israel was involved in, as well as the victims of terror attacks. Most of them are also buried on Mount Herzl, together with the founders of the State and prominent Israeli people.

I know that this doesn’t come without controversies. The Palestinians mark on the same day, the Nakba, the catastrophe that they saw in the creation of Israel in 1948. Some Jews and non-Jews alike do not want to celebrate Israel as long as the conflict with the Palestinians is not resolved.

Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, and whatever your views on Israel are, what has been achieved there in over seventy years is breath-taking. I know that even pronouncing this statement may attract some criticism, but there is one single Jewish state in the world, of the size of Wales, a place of refuge for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing post-war Europe, and a million Jews fleeing from Arab countries from where they were expelled.

Whether you want it or not, Israel is now part of our Jewish identity. It is the land promised by God to Abraham, the land of our longings in the liturgy, our hope to be next year in Jerusalem at the end of the Seder, making it a land of freedom. And more recently, a shelter for survivors of the Shoah and Jews expelled from Arab lands.

Of course, there are important issues, and Israel will be entirely safe only when the relationships with the Palestinians reach a state of peace.

For me, the existence of Israel teaches me an important lesson: complexity. Our sentiments towards Israel are complex. The situation in Israel itself is complex. The feelings of those who oppose Israel are also complex – anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism? – Even those who claim to be Zionist need to add some nuance to it: between the religious Zionists and the Progressive Zionists, there is a world of difference. We cannot read the situation with our western eyes and our biased media when it comes to Israel. This small country is a bridge between the West and the East, and its fate is to embrace this position.

I am looking forward to seeing you all on Shabbat. In the meantime, keep safe and keep your spirits up.