The challenges of this Memorial Day and Independence Day teach us that the modern-day return to Zion is not something to take for granted.
It looks like Israel’s 72nd Independence Day will be characterized more than anything by the challenge to our sense of certainty and re-learning the lesson that what can be taken for granted actually can’t. On the personal level, we’re talking about health, income, and even daily habits that until a couple of months ago were utterly prosaic, from a walk down the street to a bus trip to a nature hike. And that doesn’t even take into account the forced distancing and prohibitions against grandparents and parents being hugging their children or grandchildren. “Hands that touch / This, too, is a gift” — it seems that these aren’t just words from a poem by Tirza Atar, but very much the reality. And an “ordinary day” truly is a “day of grace” (Rachel Shapira).
But this renewed realized that was forced upon us could be transferred from the personal to the national context and applied to our country, where we were born, which we’re so used to, and despite everything, cannot be taken for granted. Far from it.
Even when talking about the nation, we would do well to reposition ourselves, at least for today and tomorrow, and allow ourselves to feel anew the most ordinary thing that seem obvious but aren’t: a Jewish government, a Jewish police force, a Jewish army, and a Jewish language and national anthem and flag and landscapes and symbols and laws, as well as our own school system; wonderful achievements that are ours. Even troubles and disputes that are entirely our own. We are no longer dependent on the kindness of others.
Only seven decades ago, independence was something that generations of Jews had longed for, with the Land of Israel as Mount Nevo. “I will come to it,” wrote Yitzhak Shalev. They did not. We did. That’s not something to be taken for granted.
Today and tomorrow is the time to remember that, to hit “refresh” and renew our awareness of what isn’t “obvious” when it comes to our independence, because for many members of the younger generation, the ones who were born into a reality of an existing state, their national consciousness is shrinking to something they take for granted — Israel is where they were born. Like the song says, “I was born here / Here is where my children were born.” In any other country, that natural and original link would be enough, but not in Israel, which arose out of the past, and without its historical, culture, and religious aspects has not right to exist here in the Land of Israel.
To inculcate that idea, we need a “sense of presence,” an obligation that goes beyond the natural or existential one. If each generation sees itself, on Independence Day as well as Passover — as if they were there, when independence was born when we were rescued from the thread of annihilation and founded a Jewish state — if every generation tells itself that our past draws on deep roots and goes beyond our lives here and now, only then can we get swept up in the words of the poet of the Psalms: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” We will be able to feel once again that even the modern-day return to Zion, the state of Israel, is not something to take for granted. We will once again be able to be, even a bit, “like those who dream.”