Yom Ha-WHAT?

Image: The signing of the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948. Public Domain.

This week we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.

First, here’s how to say it: yohm hah-ahtz-mah-OOT. 

Yes, it’s a mouthful. If you repeat it ten times, you’ll have it.

We celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut on the fifth of Iyar (ee-YAHR), so it’s another Jewish holiday that appears to move around on the Gregorian calendar. It falls sometime in April or May every year.

It marks the day in May 1948 when the Jewish leadership, led by David Ben-Gurion signed the Israeli Declaration of Independence, eight hours before the end of the British Mandate of Palestine. Four hours after the signing, Egypt bombed Tel Aviv and Israel’s War of Independence began. Within hours the armies of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq invaded.

The text of the Declaration of Independence is available on the website of the State of Israel. Every Jew should read it.

  • In 2016, Yom Ha’atzmaut begins at sundown on May 11.
  • In 2017, Yom Ha’atzmaut begins at sundown on May 2.
  • In 2018, Yom Ha’atzmaut begins at sundown on April 19.

Thoughts for the 4th of July

I listened this morning as the announcers on NPR read the Declaration of Independence aloud.

I noticed something I’d never noticed before: Passover and the Fourth of July have a lot in common. Both celebrate the moment when a small group of people made the decision to take an enormous risk. In both cases, the leaders went out on a dangerous limb and miraculously, the people went with them. In both cases, they defied a government with overwhelming power and resources.

Moses had defied Pharaoh repeatedly and to his face, but while that was going on, the average Hebrew was still making straw bricks to build Pharaoh’s monuments. Only on the first night of Passover did that average man and woman throw down their burdens and walk away. Surely there were skeptics who grumbled over the first Passover meal that Moses was crazy and the whole bunch of them were doomed. Not until the reception of the Torah and the forty years in the wilderness did Israel become a nation, and even then, a work in progress.

And so it was on July 4, 1776: not everyone thought that it was a great idea to defy the British Parliament and Crown. But eventually  the cruelties of the War of Independence forged a new nation, a nation that continues, fitfully, to pursue the ideals articulated in the Declaration.

Both acts, while daring, were incomplete. Freedom alone is not enough to sustain a nation. Passover’s liberation requires Shavuot’s Torah to sustain and propel the nation forward. The Declaration of Independence similarly requires the Constitution with its Bill of Rights. Otherwise “freedom” would have disintegrated into chaos and there would be nothing to celebrate – in fact, nothing to remember.

The Declaration of Independence is a soaring document written by a flawed man, signed by similarly flawed men. The Hebrews who downed tools and followed Moses into the desert were imperfect, too. In both cases, the journey begun in daring led later to the acceptance of responsibility, and continues in an ongoing pursuit of the ideals articulated by limited human beings.

So as we grill our Hebrew National hot dogs, as we watch the fireworks, let us remember that 0ur work is incomplete. Until we build societies that live up to our fine words, we are not done.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.