In which my kids teach me about tefilah
There You Are

A birthday note for Yom Ha-Atzma'ut

Sunset over the Jerusalem hills, 2008.

Dear Israel,

There's so much I want to say to you on your 64th birthday* today.

First I want to say: it's amazing that you exist. That so many of us made our ways to your shores, battered and traumatized by the Shoah, and joined those who had been living in Mandate Palestine in building a new life, a new dream.

On this, your birthday, I celebrate your technology and innovation; your pioneering work on sustainable agriculture in deep desert; that our people's ancient language of scripture and prayer has been brought back to life as a modern spoken tongue. Nowhere else in the world does civic life move in Jewish rhythms.

It's true, there are some things I wish you were doing differently. It's frustrating that the version of Judaism which has become your state religion discriminates against other forms of Judaism. I hear things aren't necessarily so great for girls and women by you, either. I hope for better in the year to come.

I know that while you celebrate, Palestinians prepare to remember what they call the Nakba, the catastrophe: your birth. That even as you mourn 60+ years of endless fighting and terrorist attacks, they mourn displacement, the separation barrier which divides families from their orchards, settler violence, the harsh conditions in Gaza.

My Israeli friends tell me that when their grandparents fought in '48, they never imagined their grandchildren would still be fighting. I hope that in the coming year your government, and your neighbors, can make choices which lead to justice and peace. I pray for the day when you and your neighbors can celebrate side-by-side.

May the coming year bring blessings.


*On the Hebrew calendar, Yom Ha-Atzma'ut is celebrated on 5 Iyar, which begins tonight. On the secular calendar, the date of Israel's founding was May 14.


Related reading:

  • Yom Ha-Atzma'ut Resources from Rabbis for Human Rights. Don't miss Masekhet Ha'Atzmaut: a Talmudic-style Commentary on Israel's Declaration of Independence. Each of the eight tractates contains excerpts from Israeli founding documents, historical and contemporary commentaries related to the excerpt, and study questions.

  • Emily Hauser's Israel's Independence Day - same old, same old -- a powerful perspective from an Israeli-American who has chosen to live in exile.

  • Happy Independence Day Wishes From a Palestinian, Aziz Abu Sarah's essay, originally published in the Jerusalem Post and reprinted in +972 magazine.