We are in the midst of the crowded season of jumbled Jewish emotions.
It begins with Passover, the soaring festival of freedom, then sinks to Yom HaShoah, commemorating the tragedy of the Holocaust. On Sunday, Israelis will mark Yom HaZikaron, truly a national day of mourning for those lives lost in Israel’s wars, but by Sunday evening, the country is in celebration mode, and the next day, Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, is the time to rejoice in the reality of a Jewish state after thousands of years wandering in the desert of history.
What are we to make of these sudden shifts from joy to sorrow and back again in our calendar?
In a sense they seem to reflect life’s realities, albeit conflated in time, and in keeping with a classic Jewish perspective. Our tradition tells us it was King Solomon, the wisest of men, who wrote Ecclesiastes, with its most famous passage beginning “for every time there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven – a time to be born, and a time to die…a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”
Although we know the Jewish people prayed and yearned for a return to their homeland ever since the Temple was destroyed, it was out of the depths and despair of the Holocaust that the modern state of Israel came to be.
Remarkably, each year at this season we read in the synagogue the Haftorah from the Book of Ezekiel and his dream-like vision of the valley of the dry bones. What more timely and poignant image of a people decimated and then coming to life than the description of the prophet coming upon dried human bones that take on flesh and skin in front of him? God reveals the bones to be the people of Israel in exile and directs Ezekiel to help bring them to life, in the land of Israel.
Whether or not we believe in Providence, we can take inspiration from this ancient depiction of a people revived, a land that was desert and deserted now blooming with flowers, plants, people and all forms of creativity. Is Israel a biblical miracle or a shining example of man’s ingenuity and resilience? Those notions are not mutually exclusive. What we know for certain is that Israel is precious — and vulnerable. Its past is our collective story as a people. Its future is up to us.