Today Israel celebrates its 64th birthday. What began in hardship and struggle in 1948, deep in the shadows of the Holocaust, eventually turned inspirational. Israel has tried to gather Jews from all corners of the Earth. Israelis have opened the land to visitors of many religions and cultures and established a vibrant nation unlike any other. We have many strengths and weaknesses; we have experienced highs and lows; we are growing into middle age.
But as we now point to the sleek office towers of Tel Aviv and the blooming Negev Desert, two symbols of Israel’s industry and innovation, we understand that their creation took years of hard work and sacrifice. Over international objections going back to the Mandate period (British-ruled Palestine, 1917-1948), the state of Israel was signed into existence on the fifth of Iyar, May 14, 1948.
Although the Haganah, the fledgling paramilitary organization that later became the Israel Defense Force, had been secretly preparing for war and slowly collecting arms, the Jewish residents of Israel were outmatched by the sheer number of troops sent against them from unhappy neighbors. There had been open and active skirmishes from November 1947, when the United Nations had voted to partition Palestine into two states. Eventually young women and men over a large age range were conscripted to fight.
Losses to Israel were heavy. Thousands died in their defense of this slip of a country. The youngest military casualty of the War of Independence was a 10-year-old boy, Nissim Gini, a volunteer runner (of intelligence), who died as the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem was being overtaken.
But why are we taking you on this historical excursion? Because the joy of Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Independence Day, was only made possible through a miraculous victory. This is reflected in Psalm 107 (v. 2-8):
Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story—those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.
Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
Immediately before we rejoice independence, we weep for those who have been lost--Israel’s annual Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks (Yom HaZikaron) is the day before Independence Day, and the day changes from sadness to joy at sundown.
We will rise from the dust of grief to celebrate the amazing country we have become.
Thanks to Kate Stern for the photos (on this page and on our Facebook page).