The Friday Night of Independence

On 15th May 1948, Shabbat was witness to another creation – that of the modern State of Israel. Due to Shabbat’s sanctity, the ceremony was brought forward to Friday afternoon, even though the British Mandate did not end until midnight. 

Yehuda Avner, in his book The Prime Ministers, recalls that awesome Shabbat in the trenches just outside Jerusalem: 

Daylight was fading fast. Far to the west, the sun’s last rays were receding behind the hilltops of Judea, heralding Shabbat. Grimy, exhausted diggers assembled in the glow of a hurricane lamp hanging on the door of a stone ruin, hidden from enemy view, to recite Kabbalat Shabbat. It was a heavenly pause: Shabbat stillness suddenly seemed to reign over everything. 

The Shabbat silence was broken only by the crunch of rushing feet, panting breath and the winded cry of Leopold Mahler running out of the blackness into the light of the hurricane lamp shouting, “I have news, I have news!!” 

“Has Ben-Gurion declared independence – yes or no?” asked Elisha Linder, beside himself. Mahler took a deep breath and solemnly said, “David Ben-Gurion declared independence this afternoon in Tel Aviv. The Jewish state comes into being at midnight.” 

There was dead silence. Even the air seemed to be holding its breath. And then the air exploded into joyful tears and laughter. Every breast filled with exultation as we pumped hands and embraced and roared the Hatikvah at the tops of our voices. 

“Hey Mahler,” shouted Elisha, cutting through the hullabaloo. “Our state – what’s its name?” 

The violinist stared back blankly, “I don’t know. I didn’t think to ask.” 

“You don’t know!” Mahler shook his head. “How about Yehuda?” suggested someone, “After all, King David’s kingdom was called Yehuda.”

“Zion,” cried another. “It’s an obvious choice.” 

“Israel” cried a third. “What is wrong with Israel?” 

“Let’s drink to that,” said Elisha with delight, breaking open the bottle of Carmel wine and filling a tin mug to the brim. “A l’chayim to our new State, whatever its name!” 

“Wait,” shouted a Chassid whom everyone knew as Nussen der chazzan – a cantor by calling, and a most diligent volunteer from Meah Shearim. “It’s Shabbos, kiddush first.”

Our crowd gathered around him in a hush as Nussen der chazzan clasped the mug and, in a sweet cantorial tone, began to chant “yom haShishi,” the blessing for the sanctification of the day. 

As Nussen’s sacred verses floated off to a higher place of Shabbat bliss his voice swelled, ululated, and trilled into the night, octave upon octave, his eyes closed, his cup stretched out and up. 

And as he concluded the final consecration, “Blessed are Thou O L-rd Who has hallowed the Shabbat,” he rose on tiptoe, his arm stiffened, and rocking back and forth, voice trembling with emotion, he added the triumphantly exulted blessing to commemorate this first day of independence: “…shehecheyanu vekiyemanu vehigianu lazman hazeh” – “Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe Who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this time.” 


● Published by The Toby Press, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem.

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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