Concentrating the essence of Jewish-Israeli history into a single week was brilliant.These words are being written during the most solemn week of the year, between Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day, Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, and Yom Ha’atzmaut or Independence Day. In the modern Israeli sense, these are the Days of Awe.
Today, 55 years after the creation of the state, we have our criticisms of Israel’s founders, but their decision to schedule these special days so closely together, thereby concentrating the essence of Jewish-Israeli history into a single week, was nothing short of brilliant.
These days connect the two decisive moments in our history, moments of such importance that the distance from them is still too brief to assess correctly. But it is clear that between the Holocaust and martyrdom, and Israel’s wars and independence, the fate of the State of Israel and of the Jewish people in this century was decided.
Every year it feels as if the subject of the Holocaust has been exhausted. What more can be said? Yet every year the Holocaust embeds itself deeper in our national and personal consciousness.
The first generation was mute, carrying its pain inside. Then came the second and third generations, reopening the wounds, peering in, wishing to hear and know. Precisely because they did not experience the events themselves, these generations feel they have a historic obligation to carry them forward from one generation to the next, as Jewish tradition teaches.
Those born in Israel, myself for example, ignored the Diaspora. The system educated us to separate from that world. The distancing was a national and personal one. Children hushed parents who wished to speak the languages of exile. They shut their ears to parental stories about “over there.”
But the passing years have bridged that artificial gap. They have given way to dialogue and the stubborn demand by young people to know more about their parents. Interest has replaced indifference, intimacy has come instead of alienation.
And, finally, there is the “March of the Living,” the delegations to the death camps as well as family “roots” journeys to Poland, Russia, and Eastern Europe.
That is how Holocaust Remembrance Day now gains new currency and generates fresh commitment.
Our founders gave us seven days between Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day and Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars to Independence Day. The link between these days is a tight and painful one, because it is clear that had it not been for the Holocaust, in which a third of the Jewish people were annihilated, the world’s uncompromising commitment to this people would not have created the circumstances that led to the state’s founding.
True, the Yishuv too, prepared itself for building a state and laid the right foundations, but only after that enormous tragedy could a broad consensus of the nations be forged on the question of a home for the Jewish people.
The chapter that opened in 1948 is still being written in blood. Army and civilian casualties still mark our independence struggle. Previous generations are astonished to discover that their children and grandchildren are still bearing arms in order to preserve the one and only Jewish state.
So I see a firm link between the Holocaust experience and the generation that created and preserves the state. The Holocaust fortifies us, not only because we vow “never again,” but because we understand that our strength to fight comes from the previous generation’s rebirth.
Outsiders look at Israel especially since October 2000 and are awed by our tenacity and vitality. We ourselves often wonder how we go on despite it all, hanging onto an almost normal routine. We are connected to the nature of this time and place, seizing the culture and the music and the education and the science so we can get from one day to another, one month to another, one year to another.
That is why it was such a brilliant concept connecting those two memorial days and ending them with Independence Day. That wondrous, instant transition from Remembrance Day for the Fallen to Independence Day, from the half-mast flag to the full mast, from the trumpets’ wail to their blast of victory. At that moment the word “independence” assumes its true meaning.
Only by living through these days, by thinking about their meaning, studying their lessons, and going through this time tunnel can we see the light at its end.
That light is the light of hope, the beginning of good things to come.
(Reprinted with permission from The Jerusalem Post)