One of the things I love about my community and about my shul, Congregation Etz Chaim, is that they understand the importance of Eretz Yisrael. I’m a die-hard Tzionit and I know that Eretz Yisrael is important to us as a nation and deserves to be celebrated. When it comes to Yom HaAtzmaut, my shul and community do not disappoint.

On Wednesday evening, May 8, Cong. Etz Chaim and the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills came together for a Yom HaAtzmaut celebration.

It started with a performance by the Yeshiva of Central Queens choir. The children were escorted by Rabbi Mark Landsman, Principal of YCQ, and the choir was led by Rabbi Michael Ribalt, Assistant Principal, and by Mrs. Talia (Brody) Spector, Musical Director. The choir performed several songs that had everyone smiling and enjoying the ruach. The crowd was standing-room-only as the parents took pictures and shepped nachas.

After the choir performance, the other programs began.

Rabbi Saul and Julia Erlbaum led the program for the children. They watched a video that allowed them to see themselves on a trip to Eretz Yisrael. The video had them on the plane, arriving, and touring. They also made flag cookies and they colored postcards.

While the children were enjoying their trip, the adults got to hear a firsthand account of the excitement and spirit of the day of the declaration of Medinat Yisrael. Moshe Markowitz served as Assistant Professor and Director of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Adelphi University and Nassau Community College. Beyond his distinguished record in academic and community leadership, he earned a professional reputation for his three decades as a veteran administrative management consultant for non-profit organizations in the United States and Israel. He has lectured and published extensively on topics relating to Hebrew language and literature, Israel, and Jewish culture. But before he did all of this, he was three years old in 1948. His father had made aliyah in 1933 and his mother in 1935. He shared a couple of memories of that time.

During World War I, when the Balfour Declaration was proclaimed, the Jews in the Yishuv of “Palestine” celebrated their liberation from the Turks and they were grateful to the British. They even considered designating 24 Kislev as their “Yom HaShichrur.” Even later, when the official British policies began to hurt, many Jews got along well with the British, including Mr. Markowitz.

Moshe remembers his father coming home earlier than usual one day in 1948 and showing him and his mother the invitation to the declaration of Atzmaut. The invitation included a PS of secrecy. Moshe had to bathe and wear Shabbat clothes, and he and his father walked together. It was no leisurely walk – there were huge crowds and they were in a hurry.

Rabbis Shapiro and Fishman (who later became known as Rabbi Maimon) were involved in the declaration. They wanted to acknowledge G-d’s miracles in the declaration, but it was an uphill battle. At the end of the declaration, they mentioned the “Rock of Israel.” Apparently, the declaration had a lot of drafts that were written and rewritten before the final one was read by David Ben-Gurion.

The declaration was read on 5 Iyar, May 14, which was a Friday. The rabbis got Ben-Gurion to agree to read the declaration at 4 p.m. so that people would have time to get home for Shabbat. Ben-Gurion didn’t fight this one, saying “Let’s not put G-d to a vote.” He wasn’t observant himself, but there were some lines that he wouldn’t cross. This allowed Medinat Yisrael to be declared without chilul Shabbat.

After the declaration, Rabbi Fishman recited “She’hecheyanu” out loud, and the crowd sang and danced. Moshe remembers someone grabbing him off of his father’s shoulders and dancing with him, but he was scared and grateful when his father “rescued” him.

Unfortunately, the new Medinat Yisrael did not come with all singing and dancing. Moshe also remembers walking to the beach with his father on June 24 and seeing the burning ship Altalena (which almost started a civil war between the two main Zionist groups).

Moshe came to his conclusion by reminding everyone that we’re living in an era of tests and threats and that we mustn’t be enemies of Medinat Yisrael.

It’s 71 years young and strong, and we wish Yom Huledet Samei’ach to our Medinah!

 By Meira E. Schneider-Atik