The 5th day of the Jewish month of Iyar, April 29th this year is Israel’s 72nd birthday. For the Jewish people this event became a symbol of our everlasting existence as a unique people whose religion cannot be separated from its nationality.
Independence day is a reminder that our existence depends on having a land of our own and that land is specifically the land of Israel with very specific borders. This land is part of us, of who we are as Jews.
I am reminded of an episode which happened at the beginning of the 20th century when the Zionist movement was offered the country of Uganda in Africa as a homeland and a safe haven for European Jews. Many were victims of the infamous Kishinev pogrom in Russia. In a rejection letter the leader of the Zionist movement at the time explained that the land component of Jewish religion is directly related to the land of Israel because of its specific spiritual value and its holiness to Judaism, without which Judaism cannot exist. This principle trumped even the immediate need for a safe place for thousands of Jewish Kishinev refugees.
Other than the religious claim, there are other profound reasons for the existence of Israel as a Jewish state (Judea and Samaria included). The crime of taking away a land from its people is not expunged due to time passed, not even hundreds or thousands of years. When a nation is forcefully removed from its legitimate homeland, and as long as that nation exists as such, its claim to the land would never get old. It would always be legitimate.
This principle became more profound when we, the Jewish nation made it very clear to the rest of the world over the long years of exile, both through our daily prayers and through decisive actions that we can never give up our legitimate claim to our land.
In the last 2000 years the world knew very well that the Jewish people never gave up on their claim for the land from which they were exiled. In medieval times the church, fearful of Jewish immigration to their homeland, which over the centuries, intensified periodically, forbade Jews to travel on Christian boats to the land of Israel. The same was true after the expulsion from Spain in the 15th century as well as in other centuries.
The Arabs, recognizing that the land of Israel is the land of the Jews were especially fearful that the Jews would one day return to reclaim their land. One of the major attempts to resettle millions of Jews back in Israel was a plan to create an economic infrastructure first, which would allow for rapid Jewish migration. This plan was made by Don Yosef Nasi, a highly influential Jew in international circles in the 15th century. The Arab nomads in Israel opposed the plan which Don Yosef had started to implement. The plan was eventually abandoned due to the extreme violent resistance of the local Moslems.
To be sure, the Moslems built a cemetery in Jerusalem in front of the city Gate of Mercy from which they believed the Jewish messiah would come to the city. Their rationale was that the messiah, being a descendant of Jewish priests, a Cohen, would not be allowed to go through a cemetery and therefore would not be able to enter Jerusalem and to establish a new Jewish kingdom in Judea.
In the 17th century an estimated eight thousands Jews, mostly young men, gathered in Turkey under the leadership of a man called Shabtai Tzvi who promised them that they would take the land of Israel by force through his magic. They were all slaughtered by the Ottoman army. Over the centuries numerous "Messiahs" gathered Jewish believers around them in a naive attempt to magically take over the land of Israel. All ended up in failure. However these constant attempts, as naive as they all were, serve as evidence throughout the centuries that indeed, action was taken by Jews who tried to reclaim the land of Israel.
These and other similar actions, including that there were a significant amount of Jews that never left the land of Israel, are undeniable historical realities. They stand witness to the fact that the Jewish people never gave up on their rights to their land. It was a constant battle for our legitimate land which we finally won in 1948 with much but not all of the Jewish land in Jewish hands
So is the term Israeli independence Day really accurate?
To suggest that Israel became independent in 1948 is not only inaccurate it also provides many Arabs with the anti Israel propaganda which they are seeking.
The term may suggest that the term Israel's independence as it related to the modern state of Israel separates itself from any Jewish evidence of independent living prior to 1948, as if there was no Jewish independent existence for many centuries prior to the modern state of Israel.
It is therefore very important for us to understand that what we celebrate is the Jewish return to independent living in our land, a restoration of previous Jewish independence in the land of Israel.
Let us all remember then that we as a people are resilient. Throughout our four thousand years of history we have faced many challenges, most recently the Holocaust, leading to the creation of the State of Israel. We have the inner strength to get through these challenging times as we, along with the entire world, are dealing with the Coronavirus.
May our inner strength that helped us survive many calamities, enduring centuries of persecutions and tragedies throughout history lead the world to better times ahead
Happy Yom Ha-atzmaut -Israeli Independence Day!
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