Let’s be honest. How many shuls in your neighborhood celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut this past week? There was a time, not too long ago, when 90% of shuls in America commemorated this awesome day… but now? What happened?
Yes, all the “Young Israels” celebrated it, and many other shuls as well, but you cannot deny that there is a sad trend going on. The overwhelming majority of shuls started in the past 20 years are – by and large – completely Zionist-free. Why is that? Why do these shuls, which are so strict in all areas of Halachah (as they should be!), completely ignore the greatest miracle to happen to the Jewish nation in the past 2,000 years?
Think I’m exaggerating? In the most recent edition of “HaMizrachi,” Rabbi Doron Perez, CEO of World Mizrachi, wrote a beautiful dvar Torah that stated that, in many ways, the birth of the modern State of Israel may even be a greater miracle that the Exodus from Egypt! He stresses several key points:
The Exodus came after 210 years, whereas the return to modern Israel happened after almost 2,000 years.
In Egypt, all of the Jewish people were together in one country, but in the modern era, Jews came from all over the world, having been literally scattered to the four corners of the earth.
In Egypt they spoke Hebrew to each other and were culturally similar, while in 1948 the Jews who came to Israel spoke as many as 80 different languages with different cultures and customs.
Rabbi Perez then states that from the first Yom Ha’atzmaut (the 5th of Iyar 5708 / May 14, 1948) until the end of 1951, a total of 686,739 Jews arrived in Israel from 70 different countries! This was the first time since the destruction of the Second Beit HaMikdash that “Jews could return to Eretz Yisrael with no restrictions imposed on them by a ruling power. Every regime that had ruled the Land, from the Romans through to the British Mandate, had limited Jewish immigration, barring Jews in one way or another from returning to the Land of their ancestors. All that changed in May 1948. Since then, over the last 71 years, without a day’s exception, the immigrant gates have been open to Jews everywhere” and in those last 71 years over 3,000,000 Jews have come to live in Israel from every corner of the globe!
Add to the above that all of this happened just three years after the Holocaust and that five Arab armies immediately attacked but were defeated by the Jewish state’s inexperienced, poorly trained, and horribly equipped army! If the lines I have written don’t constitute the greatest Jewish national miracle in the past 2,000 years, then I don’t know what is.
So why this negative or apathetic attitude from so many of our shuls and rabbanim? The rabbis will tell you that they are simply following the yeshivot they received semichah from. Since there are no Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations in Chofetz Chaim, Shor Yashuv, Lakewood, Telz, Mir, Chaim Berlin, or Ner Yisroel (to name just a few), why should they institute one in their shul? They are simply following what they learned…
On one hand they are right: A rabbi will teach what he has been taught. But there’s one major point that is being overlooked. A rav deals with modern life, which brings many challenges that face his community on a daily basis. I guarantee you that the problems facing todays’ youth – and many adults as well – were not discussed in his yeshivah back in the day... so why only deal with the negative? Must a rav focus only on the growing drug problem, the political correctness of society, or the crazy smart-phone world we all live in? Why can’t the positive things be shared and celebrated… like the miracle of the State of Israel? Forgetting about everything else, do you know how much Torah is being studied in Israel today?? More than ever before in Jewish history!! There are 120,000 full-time Torah students in Israel studying in more than 1,500 yeshivot and seminaries!! For that reason alone every community should sing, dance, and say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Do you think we should thank Hashem for that… or wait a minute… maybe we should just totally ignore the greatest Torah revolution in history??
Dearest friends, I know what you’re thinking: The State of Israel is far from perfect. We don’t have the Beit HaMikdash, many of our leaders do not keep Torah and mitzvot, and – fill in the blanks with another 100 things. Yes, it’s true – and we need to change each and every one of those things until they are fixed – but that does not change the fact that we are witnessing and living a miracle on a daily basis. Parents jump for joy when a new baby is born, even though that baby does close to nothing for a long time. The modern State of Israel is just 71 years old, which – when compared to the rest of the world – is still a baby. We need to focus on the potential of that baby and what it has already accomplished in its infancy.
I urge each and every one of you to push your shul toward this direction. Make sure the prayers are said each Shabbat for both the holy IDF soldiers as well as the State of Israel. Remember the fallen heroes on Yom Ha’Zikaron (Memorial Day in Israel) and celebrate with Hallel and other prayers on Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim (coming soon on June 2). We must thank Avinu Malkeinu - our Father and King – for giving us what our grandparents dreamed about. Let’s never take this incredible gift for granted.
Am Yisrael chai!!
Shmuel Sackett is a product of Queens. Born in Middle Village, a graduate of YCQ and YHSQ, he served as Havurat Yisrael’s first youth director and was the founder of two NCSY chapters in Forest Hills. In 1990, Sackett made aliyah and is the co-founder of the Israeli political party “Zehut” (ZehutInterntional.com ). He and his wife make their home in Herzliya Pituach and are blessed with six children and many grandchildren.