This week the Jewish state underwent a unique annual ritual, blending its most solemn and joyous national holidays. Throughout the country Israelis mourned the loss of more than 25,000 soldiers, on Yom HaZikaron this past Monday — and then celebrated the 66th anniversary of statehood on Yom Ha’Atzmaut the very next day. That rhythm represents a striking reminder of the Jewish tradition of balancing opposite emotions and, sometimes, realities — seemingly a requirement in a society that has achieved remarkable social and economic stability while facing existential threats from its enemies.
Yet Jews have always lived this way.
The best-known passage in the Book of Ecclesiastes, written, according to tradition, by King Solomon, the wisest of all men, offers 14 variations on the theme of marking the seasons in our lives, including “a time for wailing and a time for dancing.” Those of us who have been in Israel at this time of year no doubt can recall both the depth of sadness on Yom HaZikaron, with visits to the cemetery and television programming devoted to recalling those who sacrificed their lives for the state, and the spirited singing and dancing as evening arrived and the transition from “a time for weeping” gave way to “a time for laughing.”
On this anniversary of Israeli independence, the country has grown to 8 million citizens and is flourishing on many fronts. So much so that one could set aside the most recent failure of U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and suggest that nothing much has changed. Life goes on, true, but we worry about complacency. The status quo in terms of the unresolved conflict is not a healthy sign as each side contemplates strategies and unilateral moves to weaken the other.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, tired at 79 and looking for a career exit that will secure his legacy, tries once more to engage with Hamas, the militant group that represents a threat not only to Israel, its sworn enemy, but to the PA as well. At the same time he is pursuing enhanced status for a presumptive “Palestine” through the United Nations, and threatens to pursue an international legal track that would hold Israeli leaders to be war criminals.
In Jerusalem there is talk of annexing West Bank areas, cutting off funds for the PA and, most recently, amending basic law to ensure that Israel be defined as the nation state of the Jewish people. Such moves are controversial within the Knesset and on the home front; here in the U.S. the various flare-ups over participation in the June 1 Celebrate Israel parade and last week’s vote to reject J Street for membership in the Conference of Presidents are further signs of the increasing debate and divide over who is and who isn’t “pro-Israel.”
Unfortunately too often the definition comes down to “one who agrees with my point of view” rather than “one who believes in the right of the Jewish people to have a Jewish and a democratic state.”
As Israel begins its 67th year there is cause for profound gratitude and celebration. Yet in keeping with the symbolism of combining Memorial Day and Independence Day, there is reason as well to worry about an Israel that is becoming increasingly isolated, from within as well as from the outside. That’s why we need to start close to home, learning to not only speak to each other with respect but to listen as well — “a time for silence and a time for speaking,” as King Solomon noted.
May we be blessed to hear each other’s wisdom.