Celebration and Sorrow in Israel’s History and Present

April 21, 2023

Next week, beginning Tuesday evening, Jews in Israel and the Diaspora will mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, a date known as Yom Ha’Atzma’ut (Independence Day). Each year, this day of celebration is immediately preceded by Israel’s Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism – Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day). The shift from mourning to celebration is profound and immediate, and illustrates one of our people’s core truths, as manifest throughout our history and the ways in which we mark time and understand the fullness of life itself. The Jewish people has experienced immeasurable suffering (having marked Yom HaShoah earlier this week, this is top of mind) and moments of improbable redemption and hopes fulfilled. Jews are inheritors of a sacred legacy of so much pain and so much joy, and when we mark these days commemorating historical moments of suffering or of simcha, we honor all of the core emotions of the Jewish experience at once. And when we experience our present, the past is remembered and felt. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “We are a people in whom the past endures, in whom the present is inconceivable without moments gone by. The Exodus lasted a moment, a moment enduring forever. What happened once upon a time happens all the time.” 

At this exceptionally challenging moment of crisis for Israel, facing both profound internal threats to its democracy, and the ongoing and increasing threats of terror as well as the rise in antisemitism worldwide, we come to this 75th birthday of the Jewish and democratic state of Israel with hearts that may feel both full and broken all at once. There is much to fear, and yet we must hold fast to hope. We can and must celebrate, even in a moment as fraught as this one for the Jewish state and for the Jewish people, and the best way we can honor all that Israel has been and can be is to commit to learning and engaging when it can be tempting to turn away and disconnect. 

A week from tonight, we will celebrate Shabbat b’Yachad together, and will mark Israel’s 75th birthday with music, reflection, prayer, and a special opportunity to hear from Rabbi Jethro Berkman about the diversity of contemporary Israeli society (for details, see below). 

This Shabbat, I offer this, my favorite poem by Israel’s greatest modern poet, Yehuda Amichai. 

Rabbi Audrey Berkman