By Doron Krakow
What We Share
His grandmother emigrated from Russia to Kibbutz Nahalal in 1923. According to her grandson, Meir Shalev, “She lived in a constant state of battle with what she viewed as the family’s biggest enemy in their new land: dirt.” His 2011 book, “My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner”, is at one and the same time, poignant, soulful, and hilarious (I found myself laughing out loud)—part memoir, part window into the juxtaposition of Jewish civilization in Eastern Europe and the pioneering, socialist agricultural world of the pre-state Zionist movement. Shalev, born in Nahalal in 1948, died last week and was mourned by Israelis of every age and disposition. Simply put, he was a national treasure, and Israelis were joined in mourning his passing by readers of his more than 40 books, which have been translated into 26 languages.
Tuesday, the world marked Yom HaShoah | יום השואה, Holocaust Memorial Day, on which we paused to remember the six million Jews slaughtered at the hands of the Nazi regime and the near-total destruction of European Jewry. In Israel, the sounds of a nationwide siren brought the entire country to a standstill as citizens stood in silent tribute, not to the incomprehensible scope of the slaughter but to honor its six million individual victims. As the generation of survivors ages and passes from the scene, we face a future without eyewitnesses to the horrific depths of the greatest calamity in our 4,000-year-long history. This year’s commemoration is a stark reminder of the implications of Jewish powerlessness in a world without sovereignty.
Yom HaShoah coincided with the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising—the heroic attempt of a small number of half-starved Jews to forestall the final annihilation of a once-thriving Jewish community. With meager weapons and little support, they raised the Jewish flag so that it would be seen beyond the walls of the ghetto—so others would know that the Jews didn’t go down without a fight. This ragtag group held off the Nazi war machine with little more than their bare hands for nearly a month. Their heroism in the face of certain doom helped inspire those who would wage the epic battle to come for Jewish independence and self-determination in the biblical Land of Israel only a few short years later.
The darkness that was overtaking Europe throughout the preceding decades contributed to the rise of the Zionist movement, whose leaders: Herzl, Weizmann, Jabotinsky, and Ben-Gurion—foresaw disaster, though no one could have imagined the scale. How many could have been saved had Israel been born before the slaughter began? What might a world in which their contributions had been brought to bear look like today?
So, with increasing determination and desperation, the Zionist world pursued independence and statehood with unbridled determination and with the knowledge that still more sacrifice would be required. At sundown on Monday, Israel and the Jewish world will pause to remember the more than 24,213 fallen fighters, soldiers, and victims of terror whose lives made possible the extraordinary reality in which we are so privileged to live today. Israel is a small country—roughly 10 million citizens. To appreciate the relative scale of such sacrifice, it is necessary to multiply that number by 4 in Canada and by 30 in the United States. Every family in Israel pauses to mourn its own—every family. That’s the price of our freedom.
Yet, as the sun sets a day later, we will usher in perhaps the single most significant milestone since her founding in 1948—the celebration of Israel’s 75th anniversary. Having so recently paused to remember the precariousness of Jewish life in a world without Israel and having spent the preceding day remembering those whose lives made the celebration possible, this year’s Yom HaAtzmaut celebration should be of unrivaled proportion. A single day on which we set aside all other concerns and considerations as we revel in the miracle of modern Zionism and its achievements—achievements at a scale unimaginable, even to Herzl or Ben-Gurion. Against the backdrop of this modern miracle, Israel and the Jewish world are in a position to be and to become whatever we choose, limited only by the extent of our ambitions and our readiness to roll up our sleeves to get the job done.
For one day, let’s set aside our concerns and complaints, our unease, and our apprehensions. The celebration should be unbridled, uninhibited, and unconditional. We stand at the high point of the last 2,000 years of Jewish history—and we do so because we live in a world of Jewish freedom, Jewish independence, and Jewish self-determination. For one day, let’s rejoice in our historic good fortune and let the celebration ring out in every corner of the Jewish world. And then, the next day, we’ll get back to work on the unfinished business of making Israel, and all of us, the best possible version of ourselves. God knows we’ve still got plenty to do.
Israel and the Jewish world lost another iconic cultural figure on Wednesday when Yehonatan Geffen, z”l, one of its most prolific poets and songwriters, died at age 76. Geffen, too, was born in Nahalal, and, like Meir Shalev, z”l, his life is a near perfect mirror for Israel’s first 75 years. Though partisan in their personal politics, their contributions are being celebrated throughout Israel and by countless Jews and others, everywhere. They belonged to us—as do their memories. So too, with Israel’s fallen, with the victims of the Shoah—with all who came before us. They are part of our shared past—our shared history. We honor them through an embrace of our shared present, this extraordinary high point, from which we’ll embark, together, on a future which we will also share.
I wish you and yours a Chag Atzmaut Sameach| חַג עצמאות שַׂמֵחַ| happy 75th Israel Independence Day. Am Yisrael Chai |עם ישראל חי
Shabbat shalom | שַׁבָּת שָׁלוֹם
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America
Less than four weeks before David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence in Tel Aviv, the matter remained very much in doubt. In Lake Success, New York, the United States and Great Britain spearheaded a determined effort to obstruct the implementation of the U.N Partition Plan adopted only five months before. The Soviet Bloc and a host of smaller nations, including Australia and New Zealand vigorously opposed a suggested American trusteeship. The war raged in Palestine, each day claiming additional victims and making the prospect of independence ever more precarious. That’s the way it was…