Is today a day of joy or a day of sorrow?
Today Israelis and Jews across the world celebrate Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israel’s Independence Day. It’s a very special anniversary: 70 years since Israel was welcomed into the family of nations as an independent Jewish and democratic state.
Looking back to 1948, we have much to celebrate. The ingathering of Jews from displaced persons camps in Europe, from anti-semitism in the lands of North Africa and the Middle East, from starvation in Ethiopia and from oppression in the former Soviet Union, are a modern miracle for the Jewish people.
Israel catalyzed the revival of the Hebrew language, the foundation of contemporary literature, music, and art that draw on the two-thousand-year-old heritage of Jewish text and thought expressed in our ancient tongue.
Israel is the only place on earth where Jews welcome Shabbat and holidays in the spirit of a myriad of Jewish ethnicities that characterize our people’s global sojourns and refracted through multiple lenses of Jewish religious observance.
I’ve traveled to Israel over 20 times, including 2 extended stays: one with my husband, and one with our children (our son Yonah was born in Jerusalem). For me, Israel is home and family, a source of joy and pride. I am fully an American Jew, but for me, there’s just something different about being in the land of our ancestors and in a society where Jewish creativity is part of the landscape.
We also have reason for sorrow. Our gratitude for a homeland stands in sharp contrast to the displacement of people who call our shared land by a different name, Palestine, and who have been denied full rights, whether as citizens of Israel or as an occupied people. To the Palestinian people, today commemorates the Nakba, the catastrophe, which followed when the British ended their mandate and Israel arose as an independent state.
And yet, this year I have found reason to hope.
Returning from our visit to Israel in February, I felt hopeful because of the unsung remarkable, passionate, and effective Palestinian and Jewish leaders who are working together on the ground to create a better homeland for all.
Returning from the JStreet 10th Anniversary Conference this week, I feel hopeful because of the open-hearted dialogue between Israeli Jews, American Jews, and Palestinians who spoke. I feel hopeful because of the 1200 JStreet U college students at the conference who are vigorously protesting the demolitions of Palestinian homes in the South Hebron Hills. I feel hopeful because of our meetings with Congressional representatives and Senators who hear and respect the voices of thousands of JStreet supporters who seek to maintain Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, committed to a two-state solution that brings peace and security to the region.
In this world of pain and possibility, it is our obligation to hold on to both realities, the celebration and the sorrow. It is up to us to remain engaged with our Jewish homeland, to continue to support those in Israel and Palestine who are working for human rights, economic sustainability, and peace and security, and to stand against those who continue to deny the rights of Palestinians, who reject moderate Palestinian leaders, and who attack the forces for civil society and equality.
On this 70th anniversary of Israel’s birth as a modern nation, I recommit myself to do all that I can to work for the kind of Jewish and democratic state envisioned by its founders.
I turn to Psalm 30 to remind me of the long view:
Redeemer, you have raised my spirit from the land of no return,
You revived me from among those fallen in a pit;
For God is angry for a moment, but shows favor for a lifetime,
Though one goes to bed in weeping, one awakes in song;
You changed my mourning to an ecstatic dance
You loosed my sackcloth, and girded me with joy.
May the next 70 years bring more song than weeping, more joy than mourning, for our people and for those with whom we share our sacred land.