Israel 64

There are those who claim that the very notion of a Zionist in the Diaspora is the purest form of an oxymoron. I make no apology for holding this badge of identity whilst not currently residing in Israel, but make sure that the basis of my Jewish identity is centred around Israel, my focus is directed towards ultimately being in Israel, and that I direct my energies towards inspiring all who I come across to understand, respect and admire all that the modern Jewish State has to offer.

As a member of a generation who has not known a world without Israel, I marvel at the accomplishments of the Country in the face of adversity.  To comprehend that within the timeframe of the lifetime of a person an entire nation has developed itself with industry, culture, economic strength, world leading technology, defensive capabilities, and moral fortitude beyond the tolerance threshold of any other nation in the history of the world, is nothing short of a modern miracle. When the aspiration of making the desert bloom is no longer an ideological cliche, but rather a practical reality, the miracle is there for all who choose to see it.

As I write these words, Israel is standing in remembrance of its fallen soldiers. This year a further 126 souls have been added to the number of terrorist victims and soldiers whose lives were sacrificed as a result of the destructive intent of Israel’s enemies. The number of fallen mourned stands at 22,993.

On the rare occurrence that ANZAC Day and Yom Hazikaron flow together, there is a serene atmosphere of solidarity and respect for those who put their lives on the front line to defend their nation.

Gallipoli was the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during WWI. Over 8,000 lives were lost by the time of withdrawal in 1915. In Australia a dawn service is held to commemorate their sacrifice. During battle, the half-light of dawn was one of the most favoured times for an attack. Soliders in defensive positions were woken in the dark before dawn, so by the time first light crept across the battlefield they were awake, alert, and manning their weapons, hence the observance of the Dawn Service on ANZAC Day.

The same notion and opportunity of “dawn” features strongly in the ideology of Zionism. Israel is described in our prayer as “Reishit Smichat Geulatenu” translated as the dawning of the flowering of our redemption. It is a messianic calling, but in a Jewish sense. Jewish people around the world are supporting the nation building of Israel.

I am a religious Zionist because I believe that Israel has a purpose that is different from that of any other nation. Unlike some of the founding fathers of modern Zionism, who aspired for the Jewish State to be an ordinary nation like any other, I believe that the Jewish State can effectively distinguish itself by displaying Jewish values and conducting itself with Jewish virtue.

Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote “Man is a messenger who forgot the message.” This particularly applies to those Jews who campaign against the building of Israel on the basis of Jewish observance, and reject the place of Jewish tradition within the Jewish State.  I implore Israel not to become a messenger who fears the power of its own message and not to disregard the spiritual motivation that has returned us to our land.

It occurred to me that if I am to further contrast ANZAC Day and Yom Hazikaron, then this is the very lesson to internalise. The emotion, patriotism, awe, and recognition of our defence forces is very real, very dignified, and a matter of the highest level of national respect and honour in both Australia and Israel. It motivates our respective national identities and delivers us an appreciation of the freedom that people have fought for on our behalf with their very lives.

At the end of ANZAC Day, Australia returns to its iconic cultural ways. Australia does not transition the energy of ANZAC Day into a moment of national celebration, save for the occasional hangover. However in Israel, Yom Hazikaron is the very essence of understanding the significance of, and elevating the joy of, Yom Haatzmaut as the modern Jewish people’s moment of national independence. There is no more powerful uniting force for the Jewish people than the commemoration of Yom Hazikaron, and its unique transition into the celebration of Yom Haatzmaut.

Yet, this unity of Israel on Yom Haatzmaut is as stirring as it is paradoxical. It is collectively celebrated without prejudice, but it is inspired by a diverse set of ideologies that become compatible even when they conflict. It is a consequence of the ingathering of exiles, and it is a further wonder of the modern State that is unique.  It is this unity that will no doubt will provide ultimate purpose to Israel, making the concept of the “Start Up Nation” a means to an end, and not an end within its own right.

As a Religious Zionist, I believe that Jews who are not religious are as Jewish as Jews who are. However, birthright aside, I remain pained by non-religious Jews who wish to take all the benefits and richness of Judaism without accepting the obligations that accompany Jewish identity. In a Diaspora construct, such Jews place Jewish continuity at risk. I have come to understand that in Israel this dynamic does not serve to function as the same motivator towards Jewish identity.  The “traditional” non-religious Jews of Israel are naturally and culturally attuned to Judaism in an entirely different way to their Diaspora counterparts.  This has both benefits and disadvantages, but the safeguarding of Jewish identity is not at risk of destruction from within Midenat Yisrael. It should however, remain a national concern for all Jews everywhere, and Israel must work to further uncover and display its Jewish consciousness.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobsen writes as follows (paraphrased quote):

“The solution for the Jewish people is not to deny its otherness. That will never work. Rather, the Jew ought to embrace his or her Jewishness, and be proud with the lifestyle and moral ethic of Torah. When we learn how to embrace our otherness with love and grace, rather than with shame and guilt, it will become a source of admiration and inspiration for all of humanity.

The presence of a Jew who is permeated by the love and dignity of Torah and Mitzvos—speaks for itself. Reb Chaim of Volozhin once remarked: “If a Jew doesn’t make Kiddush (to sanctify himself by maintaining a distinctly Jewish lifestyle), then the non-Jew will make Havdalah for him (by making the Jew realize he is truly different).”

Israel, for example, will never succeed portraying itself to the world as “a regular country.” Its choice is either to run from its destiny or to embrace it, and thus become a source of pride for the entire world.”

Indeed, Israel faces challenges beyond those that Australia or any other nation could tolerate. Yet it rises above. Israel’s fallen are recalled, but the nation of Israel carries that commemoration forward with purpose and a party of the likes of no other. Israel has a special purpose in this world, a purpose that becomes more evident and obvious with each passing year. Israel will deliver the example of sustainable technology, ecological balance, economic prosperity, and spirituality to the world, and once again be a light unto the nations. Therefore we embrace the memory of the fallen and carry their legacy straight into the recognition of national independence. We celebrate for them, we celebrate with them, and we continue to build a future that has unlimited functional capacity.

The Biblical covenant of the brit bain habtarim was a pact made by God with Abraham. It foreshadowed the long historical process by which the Jewish people would become God’s Nation. Israel at 64 is evident work in progress towards the fulfillment of this covenant.

May we all remember the fallen soldiers of Israel and Australia, and from across both countries work to hasten the universal spiritual identity of the modern Jewish nation.