By: Meira Weber
Zionism runs strong in my family, as deeply connected to my identity as my family name and my devotion to Orthodox Judaism. Zionism was simple when I was growing up in the United States, because all it took to be a Zionist was to love Israel. And who didn’t love Israel? My favorite stories came right from the Bible: daring tales of our leaders and prophets, the cycle of sin and repentance, the awe of miracles. Every Biblical story led to the Land of Israel, so my view of the Jewish Homeland was uncomplicated.
The difficult nuance of modern-day Israel is a far cry from the idealized Biblical land I envisioned in my early years. In 71 short years, the land and people of Israel have weathered wars, terrorism, near-constant rocket fire, expulsion from their homes, and concession after fruitless concession in the name of unreciprocated peace. Israel is not a fairyland. Every Israeli knows intimately the struggles that we face daily, and everyone has an opinion on how the state should (and should not) be governed.
Every year, we commemorate two Memorial Days – Holocaust Memorial Day, and Memorial Day for the Soldiers and Victims of Terror. People say that the latter is a reminder of the price we have paid for a state, and the former, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is about the price we paid for not having our own state. There is not a single citizen of Israel who does not know a soldier who paid the ultimate price. Responsibility lays heavily on the shoulders of our children, eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds who draft with heads held high, proud to defend the country that is finally ours.
It took me years to unravel the complicated emotions that accompany our Soldiers’ Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron, and the immediate celebration directly after for Israeli Independence Day, Yom Ha’Atzmaut. We mourn the soldiers and their sacrifices, and then we revel in our gratitude for the land that God has granted us. Both days are defined by pride. We are proud of our heritage, proud of our soldiers, proud of our survival. On Yom Ha’Atzmaut, we sing in the streets and dance with the Israeli flag, we wear the national colors of blue and white, we have cookouts and picnics and joyous get-togethers. We share stories about how happy and grateful we are to live here in modern-day Israel, in the land that was promised to us so many generations ago.
The celebration of Israeli Independence Day right after the solemnity of Soldiers’ Memorial Day might feel like a strange dichotomy at first, but in truth the two days complement each other beautifully: we mourn, and then we rejoice. The days will always be linked, in a way that I could never understand before.
To anyone who wants to get a taste for Israel that most visitors don’t get, I would recommend you visit around the time of Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut. The struggle and victory for Israel is raw and real, and exists as much now as it did then.
This year, I spent Israeli Independence Day in a small Samarian community called Hashmonaim. The night was a blur of lights and music and revelry. I wove my way through throngs of celebrating people choking the main streets and darting between carnival booths of fresh food and Israel-themed trinkets, ooh’d and ahh’d at the flag dances and the fireworks, and waved a tiny Israeli flag until my arms were sore. I smiled at little children with faces painted blue and white, at the walls and carnival booths festooned with flags and lit-up Stars of David. Signs everywhere proclaimed free food for soldiers in uniform, and massive banners wished everyone a happy holiday. Music and laughter rang out through the streets until the earliest hours of the morning. The celebration was pure and sweet and true.
The pride in my country, in Israel, overtook me then. Coming off the heels of Yom HaZikaron, the Soldiers’ Memorial Day, and having renewed my understanding of the sacrifice it took to re-establish a Jewish State in the Holy Land, it struck me. We have come home to fulfill the prophecy given from God to Abraham so many generations ago. With the help of Christians like yourself, we have come so far, and we thank you for all the support you have given us through the years. We are here, to raise our own children and to thrive in this land that was promised to us. God is with us. And we are staying.
Happy Independence Day!