Would the real Israel please stand up?

Last Sunday afternoon I took my children to Cottesloe beach for a swim.  There’s nothing like a hot summer afternoon in the middle of April to better demonstrate the lifestyle benefits of Perth living. 

Our excursion lasted longer than I had intended.  My kids were showering off the sand as I was trying to muster them into the car.  For the third time I wandered down to the forshore.  Eyeballing my youngest, I called out several times to finish with the shower and head for the carpark.  Fourth time it was with greater animation.  “Yallah” I called, without thinking twice.  From the other side of the shower, a man swings around “Yallah?” he repeats with a broad smile.  “You are from Israel?”, I asked in Hebrew.  A few minutes later a small group of Israel backpackers are chatting with us.  They are practicing their English as much as I am practising my Hebrew.  It ends up being quite a conversation, which as always I have the propensity to over-analyse.

When entering that conversation, what it was that we had in common was not necessarily that we were all Jewish (one Russian, one Italian, a few generational Israeli’s), but was that we had a common language that we could share in an isolated place.  It was not that we share the same religious outlook (in fact I can vouch that this was definately not the case).  It was that we all had an interest in the forthcoming Yom Haatzmaut celebrations that are now underway.

The modern State of Israel is a bond of unification, far morso than it is a source of dissention, for the Jewish world today.  Yet the complexity of the Diaspora relationship with the State, and the lack of definition by which the Jewish world is nurtured by its homeland are matters that require far more focus and debate.  Thankfully, we are able to set aside some of the more heated differences of opinion, join together as one, and celebrate the youthful and exhuberant accomplishments of Israel, the heart and soul of the Jewish people.

Perth is but a microcosm of the Jewish world, yet reflective enough to be able to demonstrate that the format and relationship of Yom Haatzmaut to the community is broad enough to allow all to participate.  There are variances in the focus and meaning of our celebration amongst the members present, but when constructively focussed and respected these are not an obstacle, but rather an extra cause for pride and admiration.

As the Jewish day begins at  Sunset, the commencement of Yom Haatzmaut is this evening.  Through the coordinated efforts of Israeli Shlichim and the youth, a tefilah chagigit was organised, endorsed by all Orthodox shules.  The Carmel School Beit Midrash hosted a festive maariv (evening service) complete with the Hallel prayer, and musical support.  The event was strongly supported by the youth, and in particular the members of Bnei Akiva. 

This tefillah is the religous expression of Yom Haatzmaut.  There is a concept within the ideology of religious zionism of “Reishit smeichat geulatenu”, being that the advent of modern Israel is the founding of the redemption of the Jewish people.  The State of Israel is a modern miracle, a fulfilment of prophecy, and a religious expression in its own right.  In this context, whether the “redemption” of Israel is expressed in the form of a person, an era, and epoch, or an evolvement of a state of being, it is the goal and the outcome that is important.  Israel is recognised to religious Zionists as a vital stage of redemption as a process, as the enabler of the end of galut (exile).  Yet the same prayer of this evening recognises that we are only moving in the right direction, that the objective of building the modern State of Israel has not yet been attained.  The underlying expression is that we have so far created a State for Jewish people. Its character and culture are strongly built on Jewish values.  Yet it is for now far from the ideal of a true Jewish State, that is Jewish beyond its cultural identity.  The greater vision of Eretz Yisrael for religious Zionists is guided by Jewish law and even an ultimate return to a Monarchic structure that truely belies a Commonwealth of the Jewish nation.

Tomorrow afternoon the festivities continue for the Perth Jewish community.  At this event there will probably be twenty times or more the number of people attending the “communal” celebration of Yom Haatzmaut.  This will be a carnival like atmosphere, followed by a ceremony incorporating the traditional Yom Hazikaron commemoration and its sudden break into song and concert.  It is wonderful that many hundreds of people will join to be part of this event.  However I do regret that there will be a side of Yom Haatzmaut that this crowd will not see or participate in, and that is the religious and spritual expression of the tefillah chagigit that was hosted tonight instead.  It is a great shame that this “religious celebration” of Yom Haatzmaut is held as a separate and somewhat secluded event as opposed to an integrated and prominent component of the communities celebration.  Whilst the tefillah wass open to the community as a whole, it was not supported by a broad cross-section of the community. 

Placing aside this reservation, it is still vitally important that tomorrow’s event is constructed to be the collective event of Perth’s Zionist community.  There is one community, one celebration and it is for one Israel.  There are many expressions of identification and many ways of relating to that country.  That is the way it should be, and it is a measure of pride that we can come together to express ourselves collectively in accordance with our own world view.  To us Israel is many things:

  • Israel is the eternal homeland of the Jewish people
  • Israel is a nation of refuge
  • Israel is an ingathering of exiles
  • Israel is the response to anti-Semitism
  • Israel is the land of our forbears
  • Israel is our cultural home
  • Israel is a free nation
  • Israel is the land of milk and honey
  • Israel is the future of the Jewish people
  • Israel is the dawn of our final redemption

 Whether Israel is some, or all of these things and more, I greatly value the opportunity to celebrate this great holiday of our generation as a whole community.  My only hope is that all of these attributes by which members of our community hold Israel to represent are reflected in the celebration we share.  They are all part of our common bond, and all deserving of our shared focus and joy.

The most amazing thing about Yom Haatzmaut, even in the severely limited context of a Diaspora celebration,  is that it returns Jewish nationalism to the contemporary identity of the Jew.  If you are a secular backpacker from Tel Aviv taking work experience in Fremantle, a religious shaliach from Yeshiva learning in Dianella, a cultural student of Jewish history, a lover of Israeli dance, a fighter for media fairness, a survivor of the Holocaust, or a fundraiser of programs to make the Negev desert bloom, Yom Haatzmaut is your Yom Tov.

The real Israel is the one that is all of these things to all of these people.  As we in Perth  join to celebrate 62 years of Israel’s declaration of independence we do so together, recognising all that Israel delivers to each of us in our own special way.  Chag Atzmaut Sameach.

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