This time of the year marks so many events in the history of our people - from the formation of Am Yisrael (the people of Israel), the acceptance of Elohei Yisrael (God of Israel) to the foundation of Medinat Yisrael (the state of Israel).
There is a story of a meeting between David Ben Gurion, first PM of Israel, and President Eisenhower in 1954. In this meeting, John Foster Dallas, the secretary of state, asked Ben Gurion - “Who does your country represent? The Polish Jews? Yemenite Jews? Romanian? Russian? After 2,000 years of diaspora, can you really call it one people? One culture? One tradition?” Ben Gurion answered: “About 200 years ago, the Mayflower arrived from England, carrying the pilgrims to the place that is now known as the great democracy of the USA. Please, step out to the street and ask ten American children the following questions-
What was the name of the ship’s captain? How long did the journey take? What did they eat while being out at sea? Was the water calm or stormy? You will most likely not get accurate answers. Now, when you travel the world, ask ten Jewish children from different countries, ask them the same questions about the Exodus. Then you will have your answer regarding the Jewish people”.
As we all sat around the Seder table, we remembered the Exodus, the freedom from slavery to one people, walking the desert on the way to the promised land. This year, we looked at the freedom received through an additional lens. After a year of the pandemic, we are slowly stepping out of our houses and starting to break free from Covid (we are not fully there yet, so stay safe!).
Following Passover, we commemorated the Holocaust on Yom HaShoa, a commemoration of millions of our people who lost their lives to hatred. On this day we are commanded to remember, so it will not happen again. Across Israel, people stood in a moment of silence as a siren was heard everywhere. The TV stations all changed their routine, and either broadcast Holocaust related movies and shows, the ceremonies and stories of the people, or are just shut down for the day. Just like retelling the story of Passover, we shared and told the stories of the victims and the survivors in order to always remember.
And from Holocaust to resurrection, with only one week between the two, we commemorated the fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks in Israel. Yom HaZikaron¸ the day that is dedicated to pause, remember and honor those who gave their lives in the wars of the state of Israel, for the freedom of the people in Israel. On this day, once again everyone pauses for the siren. The memories and stories are shared. On this day, I remember Noam and Yoni, who died in a terror attack on soldiers in 2003. I remember Noam singing while working in basic training, and I remember his smile. I remember his red beard and his jokes. I remember standing next to Yoni’s grave after we brought the coffin to the cemetery and looking at his family as we all stood there. On Yom Hazikaron I remember the stories of those who I never knew, but my father took me to visit their grave on Mt. Herzl. And I remember those that we could not save. For 24 hours Israel is focused on remembering the price of freedom.
But then, as night falls, the celebrations begin. It’s Yom HaAtmaut! Israel’s Independence Day. The harsh transition is a constant reminder of the sacrifice, as well as remembering what it was for. Celebrations with music and food, dances, and all Israeli culture – Israeli movies and shows on TV, ceremonies and more. We have our state! This is our resurrection.
Within two weeks, we went from being slaves, to a people, to victims of hate to a sovereign state. This is the story of our people.
And right around the corner is Shavuot, a celebration of harvest, and the event that really made us one people – receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The day in which we learned our core values as a society, as a people, as a nation. A day in which we were chosen, and we chose, to be one, to be kind and to never forget.
As we never forget the Exodus, Mt. Sinai, our families, and victims of the Holocaust or those of the wars of Israel, we celebrate the existence we share today.