Yom HaAtzmaut after October 7th:
How We Should Celebrate This Year

BY RABBI REUVEN TARAGIN

The last Yom HaAtzmaut feels like it was a decade ago. The past year has been a long and traumatic one for the State of Israel and for all of us. How should we approach Yom HaAtzmaut this year? Should we celebrate and dance while thousands mourn and heal from their wounds? Should we sing while over one hundred families still suffer and desperately hope for their loved ones held hostage to be brought home? 

Despite experiencing hardships, we must celebrate and thank Hashem for His miraculous assistance. This is why our ancestors celebrated our holidays in the darkest times and places, including ghettos and concentration camps. They were able to see beyond what they were experiencing. When their reality was bleak, they commemorated past miracles and reinforced their belief in future ones.

We have even more reason to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, for there is an important difference between the attacks we are experiencing and the suffering and martyrdom of our ancestors. Their suffering was heroic and a kiddush Hashem. They were killed because they were Jews, because of their identity and beliefs. That said, their death was part of our exilic persecution. Our present suffering is of a different ilk. Jews in Eretz Yisrael today are giving their lives to defend our people, our Land, and our state. Our losses and suffering are tragic and painful, but they are part of the process of our redemption – our return to and rebuilding of Eretz Yisrael

We must not allow our pain to overshadow the process we are privileged to be part of. Israel has two memorial days in two subsequent weeks. Yom HaZikaron reminds us of the price we pay for having a state; Yom HaShoah reminds us of the price of not having had one. Over one thousand people were killed on October 7th. That is less than the number killed in a single hour in Auschwitz alone. The price we pay for a state is high, but now more than ever, we must not forget how fortunate we are to have it. 

Still, our celebration should be different this year. Our modes of expression must be sensitive to those who are suffering. Yom HaAtzmaut should be less boisterous and more reflective. In addition, we should ensure that our celebration is rooted in a meaningful appreciation of the State of Israel. We can accomplish this by taking full advantage of Yom HaZikaron. Just as Purim follows the reflection of Ta’anit Esther, Yom HaAtzmaut follows Yom HaZikaron. Before we celebrate, we remember those who paid the ultimate price on our behalf and the process they helped facilitate. We consider why our return to and rebuilding of Eretz Yisrael is so challenging and what further steps we must take to merit peace and the completion of our redemption. 

I recommend four Yom HaZikaron reflections:

Appreciation and investment

Our generation did not experience the horrors of the Holocaust. We were born into a world that had a State of Israel. We had the luxury of not needing to appreciate the importance of the state, and we were able to live with the naive assumption of its existential security.

October 7th and the past seven months were our wake-up call. We have seen attacks on and demonization of Jews all over the world. Sadly, antisemitism, even its most vile forms, is part of the present, not just the past. Once again, we see insensitivity to Jewish suffering and double standards applied to the State of Israel.

At the very time when our state is needed more than ever, its validity is being challenged. Though our relationship with our homeland is thousands of years old and the modern state is over seventy-five years old, many continue calling for and working towards its demise (chas v’shalom).

These circumstances call upon us to reappreciate Hashem’s gift and commit ourselves to strengthening it. We often assume that others will see to the needs of the state. Over the past seven months, we all felt the need to roll up our own sleeves and get involved. This is something we should commit ourselves to continuing in the coming years. We appreciate the gift of the State of Israel and realize our responsibility to defend and support it. 

Humility

Hubris has always been part of the Zionist enterprise. Faith breeds optimism, but also, sometimes, complacency. The success of the Six Day War generated the overconfidence that facilitated the Yom Kippur failure a mere six years later. 

Israel has come a long way in the fifty years since the Yom Kippur War. Sadly, this success once again generated complacency. The fact that the Hamas invasion took place fifty years, almost to the day, after the Yom Kippur War should remind us that we are still plagued by overconfidence. Israeli society needs a healthy dose of humility to balance our success.

Moving forward, we should work to ensure that we are not blinded by success. We should remember that our success comes from continued hard work and siyata d’Shmaya. As we live among vicious enemies, we should never let our guard down again; we must apply ourselves both in practice and in prayer.

Unity

We all remember how fractured we were before October 7th. Violent protests against the government and calls for civil disobedience and boycotting the military made us vulnerable. This state of disunity offered our enemies the perfect opportunity to attack. 

The attack was Hashem’s way of reminding us that we are one people. Hamas and our other enemies see no difference between Jews in Israel and those who live around the world, between religious and secular, and conservatives and liberals. We are all Jews and all attacked and demonized. 

Baruch Hashem, we came together to fight our common enemy, shoulder to shoulder. However, this alone does not reflect unity. The fact that we responded together to a common threat does not mean that we see ourselves as one people in any meaningful way. This is why the decrease in the intensity of the fighting has brought a renewal of discord and disunity.

We all realize how important it is to take the cooperative spirit we felt over the past months to the next level. We must remind ourselves that we are one people and act in a way that reinforces unity. 

Identity and relationships

The demonization of Jews, insensitivity to our suffering, and double standards applied to us and to the State of Israel are a reminder that we are the “people who dwell alone.” 

Before October 7th, Israel felt accepted among the nations of the world, and many Jews around the world felt comfortable as part of their country’s social fabric. The last seven months reminded us that we are a unique people with a unique mission. Though we seek to impact others, we need to remember that we are distinct from them. 

Antisemitism is meant to remind us of the centrality of our relationship with Hashem – the only One we can truly rely upon. We need to focus more on our identity as Hashem’s people and our relationship with Him.

May we soon see the complete and final redemption!

 

Rabbi Reuven Taragin is Educational Director of Mizrachi and Dean of the Yeshivat Hakotel Overseas Program.

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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