Shabbat HaAtzmaut Reading

Am Yisroel Chai

Last Wednesday we had the Yom Hashoah service when we commemorated almost 300 named relatives of members of our congregation and many more unnamed members of their families who died in the Shoah. This direct connection made it personal as we lit candles in remembrance for those who died and also as a sign of the life and light we as survivors and the children and grandchildren of survivors bring to the world.

Today we acknowledge Yom HaAtzmaut – Israeli Independence Day marking the refounding of the state of Israel 67 years ago, just 3 years after the liberation of the camps and almost two thousand years since we were expelled by the Romans.  Over the past two thousand we never lost our link to the land.  At our seders we say  ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ and this has been taken literally by Jews throughout the ages, especially when we were being persecuted.

Those who remained after the Roman expulsion were joined by others. The Jews of Haifa held out against the Crusaders in 1099 and they fought for Jerusalem alongside Muslims. Although the Crusaders massacred many Jews in the holy land, the Jews returned.  When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, some communities settled in Palestine. During the 16th century, Jewish communities struck roots in the Four Holy CitiesJerusalem, Tiberias, Hebron, and Safed—and in 1697, Rabbi Yehuda Hachasid led a group of 1,500 Jews to Jerusalem. In the second half of the 18th century, Eastern European opponents of Hasidism settled there.

The first wave of modern Jewish migration to Ottoman-ruled Palestine, known as the First Aliyah, began in 1881, as Jews fled pogroms in Eastern Europe.  The Second Aliyah (1904–14), began after the Russian Kishinev pogrom; These migrants were mainly traditional Jews but also included socialist groups who established the kibbutz movement and of course famously Tel Aviv was established on the sand dunes in 1909. The Third (1919–23) and Fourth Aliyahs (1924–29) brought an additional 100,000 Jews to Palestine.  The rise of Nazism and the increasing persecution of Jews in the 1930s led to the Fifth Aliyah, with an influx of a quarter of a million Jews

The antagonism to Jews returning to the land long preceded the establishment of the state or modern accusations of illegal settlements and occupation. Arab riots in 1920 led to the establishment of Jewish defense forces. Despite many Arabs proclaiming a desire to live in peace with Jews and welcoming the energy and development they brought, those who whipped up violent opposition gained the upper hand in Arab politics. From 1860 to 2014 over 23,000 Jews died for the founding and defence of Israel.  In the 1948 War of Independence 1% of all Israelis lost their lives. In Israel today there are over 17,000 bereaved families and 7,000 orphans and widows.

Yom HaAtzmaut will be celebrated in Israel on Wednesday evening and Thursday as a joyous holiday but only after the solemn commemoration of Yom Hazikaron – Memorial Day for Fallen Israeli Soldiers. The message of linking these two days is clear: Israelis owe their independence – the very existence of the state — to the pioneers, soldiers and civilians who sacrificed their lives for it. In past years we have had the young people from Israel through the Magic Moments programme to bring home to us how seriously these sacrifices are taken by Israelis today.  This year the Magic Moments groups have gone to other synagogues, nonetheless as we in the diaspora raise our awareness and strengthen our connection with Israel by celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut, let us also take a moment to remember Yom Hazikaron and to appreciate the families in Israel who send their precious sons and daughters to serve in the IDF and those who have paid the ultimate price so that we can all say Am Yisroel Chai.