Seventy-three years ago on May 14 (according to the Gregorian calendar), the leaders of what in a few minutes would become the nation of Israel declared its independence. Just 11 minutes later, U.S. President Harry S. Truman gave the Jewish state and the Jewish people his and America’s blessing. Through a combination of tragedy and triumph, the Israel of May 14, 1948 has become the Israel of May 2021. It is nothing short of a miracle.
That first Israel Independence Day was a special day throughout the Diaspora, and it should be an extra-special day once again in the Diaspora.
Despite incessant efforts that continue up to the minute to try to snuff out Jewish self-determination in our homeland and the bastion of democracy in an otherwise despotic Middle East, the tiny nation of Israel thrives beyond what just about anyone could have imagined at the First World Zionist Congress in 1897 or even as David Ben-Gurion read Israel’s Declaration of Independence 51 years later.
Those Jews who are today 73 years old or younger have not experienced a time when there was no State of Israel. But talk to Jews who were past their childhood when the Jewish state was re-established and you may learn firsthand what a sea change it was, especially after Israel managed to repel the six attacking Arab armies and local Arabs to survive and continue its defense in its ongoing War of Independence.
To have a nation to call our own solidified Jewish standing among the world; to have our homeland restored prompted pride; and while it is preferable to “run” towards Israel out of love rather than hold Israel solely as a place of refuge should the need arise, Israel instilled a sense of reassurance and confidence in a world long volatile and uncertain for Jews. Israel earned Jews respect that we may have otherwise lacked among our non-Jewish friends and neighbors.
Israel has ably served all of those roles ever since.
It is important here to point out that while the Jewish state gained its independence in 1948, Israel was established/created thousands of years earlier.
Israelis marked Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, appropriately on the fifth of Iyar on the Hebrew calendar, which this year coincided with April 14-15. For Israelis, Independence Day is one of pure celebration, including fireworks. It is also a joyous day for many Jewish people (sadly, not all) the world over, and even Israel’s non-Jewish friends rejoice on this day.
In America, the celebration is generally pegged to May 14 with parades and other events in areas where there are large Jewish communities, but little of substance when substantive action is needed given circumstances and threats.
Israel is facing immediate existential threats from Iran and from those who want to fund and raise up those committed to its destruction (G-d forbid!), and longer-term/evolving dangers from terrorists and their facilitators, in addition to anti-Jewish propaganda campaigns and the BDS movement. The media always has Israel under a microscope searching for defects while ignoring accomplishments. And then there are the threats from within the Jewish community as well, which seem to be growing.
For those outside Israel, Israel’s Independence Day should also include (when it does not coincide with Shabbat) time dedicated to pro-Israel advocacy and activism, as well as learning and education.
There is a tremendous amount of knowledge to glean about the history of the land and the people; international law, and the United Nations and its forerunner, the League of Nations; the wars and massacres of Jews and terrorism, and the bravery and victories despite them; the demographics of the past and present; the religious and cultural significance of specific areas; who Israel’s friends are and what enemies who pretend to be friends are up to; and terror attacks that preceded Independence by decades and continue to this day.
Then there is the need to put the knowledge to work via advocacy and activism, both learning how to do that and then engaging in actual meaningful advocacy/activism.
The Zionist Organization of America offers a number of activities and projects for individuals to help Israel—from our “Buy Israel” project to responses to anti-Israel media bias to our Textbook Survey Project. We also offer a wealth of tools, training and resources for advocacy.
Israel Independence Day is the perfect day to set aside time, effort and commitment to learn more and do the necessary work. It should be done throughout the year, but especially on this particular day.
Steve Feldman is the executive director of the Greater Philadelphia chapter of the Zionist Organization of America.