Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Uncertainty of Yom Ha'atzmaut

A Guest Post by Rafi G
(originally posted on LII)

I suspect there are a lot of people who will identify with what I write in this post. Despite that, I only speak for myself, as I will describe my own conundrum.

Yom Ha'atzmaut is a day of doubt and uncertainty for me.

I do not mean "what do I think of the State?". I mean how do I celebrate that.

By nature I am a very patriotic person. I love Eretz Yisrael and I love Medinat Yisrael. I sometimes do not like things any specific government might do, and think they are going against the values I think should be promoted, but as a State, I love Israel.

We might forget 61 years later, but the State was founded with the goal of creating a homeland for the Jewish people. Nobody wanted us back then. Now we look back and say we could have lived anywhere. But when we say that, we are saying with the perspective and history of 61 years that would be completely different if not for the State of Israel.

The State gave us the ability to live as Jews in our own country, and it also gave us the ability to live as Jews in other countries. Ask any holocaust survivor, ask anybody who was around at the formation of the State and they will describe to you how everything was different, in western countries, after the State was founded. Nowadays we have the freedom and forgetfulness to gripe about how bad the State is while ignoring the fact that it is only because we have a State that we have the ability to live as Jews freely. Yes, even in the United States.

So what is my doubt and uncertainty? I live in and am part of the greater haredi world. For all intents and purposes, in the range of haredi, I fall somewhere within. Maybe in a specific niche of mixed ideas and beliefs - mixed with more open-mindness than the average haredi, more liberalism, more zionism, more independence, etc. But I am part of the general haredi world.

As I said, I am a patriot. I love Israel. On Yom Ha'atzmaut I feel the pride and the patriotism bursting out, just as I feel the sorrow on Yom Ha'Zikaron, and just as I feel the weight of history on Yom Ha'Shoah.

Yet because I am part of the general haredi world, that sense of pride has to be suppressed to a certain extent - more than I would like. If not, then there would be repercussions. It is my decision to be part of that world, and therefore my own fault, to a certain extent, but I do not think I am in a unique situation.

What is one to do? I feel the pride, but I am not allowed to celebrate. Even worse is that I do not know why. Other than a few platitudes about how the State is secular, I have no idea why the rabbonim are, at best, so ambiguous, or perhaps "ambivalent" is more accurate, to the State and Independence Day.

I am not claiming the rabbonim should declare us all to say hallel. That does not interest me. That is a purely halachic debate, and I am fine with whichever side you put yourself on. If you feel it is halachicly right to say hallel, say it. If not, don't say it. I can accept both opinions. I am talking about the general celebrating of the occasion. One can not say hallel, but still wave the flag and be joyous about the momentous occasion.

So why don't we, in the general haredi world? Why are we afraid that if we wave the flag we will be ostracized? Why will we be ostracized if we wave the flag?

I don't know.

The rabbonim and shuls all plan programs for the day of Yom Ha'Atzmaut. Programs of learning Torah for men who are normally at work but have the day off. It is great to be able to spend part of the day in the beis medrash learning. They plan special shiurim usually - perhaps even on interesting topics. But do they ever plan a shiur on the topic of Yom Ha'atzmaut? Do they ever explain to us that it is ok to celebrate somehow, or if it is not ok why it is not ok? All I know is that it is not accepted, but I have no idea why.

The mere existence of the State has given our nation so much, that I have no understanding of why it is wrong to celebrate it. It seems that if the special shiur was on the topic of Yom Haatzmaut (either explaining why it is right or wrong to celebrate), aside from the fact that that beis medrash hosting such a shiur would likely be packed that day because so many people want to hear a torahdikke discussion on the inyan, many people would know how to approach the day properly - with direction from their rav via the shiur.

the way it is, people want to celebrate somehow, think they cannot, don't know why, and have nobody to turn to. They think that if they ask then they will look too much like a Zionist and their kids will be thrown out of school, they will be chased out of the neighborhood/community, or just thought of as being too modern.

Why can we not get guidance on this?

(I am not looking for someone to write in the comments an explanation of why we do not celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut, though feel free to do so if you wish to. I am looking to understand why the rabbonim do not talk about it and give us the Torah perspective how to relate to the day)

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