April 26, 2023
Today is Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, which is celebrated on the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar.
A big shout out to all who know how old Israel is today … 3 quarters of a century! That’s right–the formal establishment of the state of Israel was 75 years ago today.
Yom Ha’Atzmaut in Israel is always preceded by Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers. The message of linking these two days is clear: Israelis owe their independence — the very existence of the state — to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for it.
A couple of years ago during Shul School, one of the students said, “"Remember that Israel is also a person as well as a place!" What a wonderful connection. And what an important reminder. Our Biblical ancestor Ya'akov, Jacob, was given the name Israel. His name is significant. Isra-El. It means, "One who wrestles with God."
One of the greatest gifts of freedom, of sovereignty, is the right to wrestle and argue with G-d, the right to question leaders, the right to engage in healthy, rigorous debate, the right to push back, question, challenge, and speak truth to power.
Moreover, Israel is more than the land itself, and more than Ya’akov our patriarch. Israel is an entire people, Am Israel. Together, we are the People Israel, with a homeland in Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel), and an interconnected diasporic community that spans the globe.
Israel the country is a complex place. There are things we love about it. There are things we strongly oppose. Right now Israel faces many challenges including civil unrest, escalating violence, and an extremist government. Regardless of how we feel about all of that, Israel’s very right to exist reminds us of this freedom to be a God wrestling people.
On Yom Ha’atzmaut, we join with Israelis and celebrate what it means to have a safe place to call home, and the freedom we share living in democratic countries. Because that freedom is sometimes threatened, we know how important it is to protect it.
May we exercise our freedoms with respect. May we have the courage to stand up and question authority. May all our God wrestling be for good and transformation.
Here are two prayers in honor of this special day.