The State of Israel has arguably been the greatest accomplishment of the Jewish people in 2,000 years. In terms of physical safety, spiritual advancement and national self-determination, it is clear that the Jews have been better off over the past 75 years than at any point in centuries.
Millions of Jews, whether from Arab lands, Ethiopia, Europe, Russia or South America, have found refuge from persecution in Israel. With all the yeshivahs, seminaries, kollels and midrashot, there is probably more Torah studied on any given day in Israel than at any point in Jewish history.
As a whole, the Jewish people have experienced independence and self-determination for the first time in thousands of years. The Jewish people owe a debt of gratitude for the conditions they currently enjoy in Israel.
These benefits don’t translate into a perfect state, of course. Although it has established itself as a place of refuge for Jews from around the world, Israel has lost over 25,000 people to war and terrorism. Israel must dedicate an inordinate amount of its resources to national security and defense.
As the spiritual center of the Jewish people, an unfortunate number of Israeli Jews are disconnected from the Jewish people’s rich traditions.
As the current debate over judicial reform demonstrates, Israel’s democratic nature hasn’t been fully developed, which detracts from Israel’s ability to fully exercise self-determination.
Yet, with all its flaws, the benefits of a Jewish state far outweigh its drawbacks, and the Jewish people should be thankful for it.
For some Jews, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, has been one of Israel’s most significant holidays. Whether one is secular or religious, barbequing or reciting hallel in a special prayer service, celebrating Israel’s independence on the fifth day of Iyar has become a no-miss event, comparable to almost any other Jewish festival.
In an essay titled “Establishing Yom Ha’atzmaut as a Yom Tov,” Rabbi Eli Ozerowski of Mitzpe Yericho made the case that Israel’s Independence Day is more than just a national holiday, it is a religious holiday as well. Ozerowski quotes Rabbi Meshulam Roth, who argued that Independence Day constitutes a shift from avdut l’cherut, “servitude to freedom,” similar to Passover. This, said Roth, is an extremely significant development and should be recognized as no less than a miracle from God.
For certain Jews and Jewish communities, Independence Day isn’t a day of significance. This doesn’t mean they aren’t grateful for all the benefits the Jewish people have experienced over the past 75 years. Rabbi Ozerowski wrote that the day isn’t without controversy in the Jewish world: “There are many others, mainly in the more mainstream haredi world today, that simply ignore the day of Yom Ha’atzmaut as having any significance whatsoever: It is a regular day, just like any other. This position does not respond at all to the establishment of the state, neither positively or negatively. This [position] may stem from tensions concerning whether halacha allows us to celebrate such a day or initiate new religious days on the Jewish calendar, the lack of religious direction in the government of Israel or a variety of other reasons.”
This doesn’t mean, however, that such people aren’t grateful for the benefits the state brings or even for the state itself. They take issue with the day, not the benefits of the State of Israel.
Different segments of the population celebrate Independence Day in different ways, and some don’t celebrate it at all. Many towns host ceremonies where residents who have made significant contributions to society are given the honor of lighting torches. The light from those torches is universal and serves to remind us that whoever we are and whatever our beliefs may be, we all benefit from the Jewish people’s journey from servitude to freedom.
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. The author of three books, he teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.