Tonight, with a one-minute siren, Yom Hazikaron, Israeli Memorial Day, will begin. This is a time during which we honor the memories of those who have died in defense of the Land of Israel since 1860—the year that the first Jewish settlers left the secure walls of Jerusalem to build new Jewish neighborhoods, and those who have died in terror attacks.
It is a period of personal and national mourning. An opening ceremony will take place at the Kotel Plaza. Flags will be lowered to half-mast. All places of recreation will be closed and all regular television broadcasting halted. Names of those who have been lost will scroll down the TV screen.
At 11 AM tomorrow (Wednesday) another siren will sound and the country will come to a standstill in honor of the dead.
The day is one of enormous solemnity, as families visit the graves of their loved ones. There are official ceremonies at the Military Cemetery at Har Herzl and at several of the 50 other military cemeteries throughout the country. The nation mourns 23,928 fallen.
But with the mourning comes the understanding that without these sacrifices there would have been no Israel.
And so we salute those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
We recognize that we owe them our very best effort – even more, our supreme effort – to make the most of this country.
At 8 PM tomorrow night, a unique transition will take place, as we move from the mourning of Yom Hazikaron to the celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day). The emotional shift – marked by a siren – is startling, but powerfully epitomizes Jewish life: the mix of pain and joy.
Celebration immediately follows the mourning for another reason as well: It marks the achievement that was possible because of the sacrifices of the soldiers.
Although we are doing fantastically well with regard to corona, festivities for the day will be tempered in accordance with the rules and some events will be virtual. But the spirit will be strong.
In synagogues, the evening will begin with prayers that include Hallel – a selection of psalms of praise to the Almighty. There will be an opening ceremony on Har Herzl that includes torch lighting. Various events, including a flyover, will take place across the country the next day.
But it is the spirit of our celebration that I want to focus on here. For Israel is a most extraordinary nation. A gift not only to the Jewish People, but to the world: A light unto the nations.
It was 73 years ago on the fifth of Iyar 5708 – May 14, 1948 – that David Ben Gurion declared Israeli independence.
See Ben Gurion’s full declaration here and scroll down to see the written document:
It is important to note that the Proclamation recognizes that the Jewish right to the Land is founded both in history and in law, with emphasis on the historical connection to the Land (emphasis added):
“Eretz-Yisrael was the birthplace of the Jewish People. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance, and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books….
“After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their dispersion, and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.
“Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland…
“In the year 5657 (1897), at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country.
“This right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of the 2nd of November, 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations, which in particular gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Yisrael and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its national home.
“The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people – the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe – was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness…
On the 29th of November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a Jewish state in Eretz-Yisrael…This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable…
“This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be master of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.”
Please, note these statements, as well:
“WE APPEAL – in this very midst of the onslaught launched against us for months now – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the up-building of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship…
“WE EXTEND our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness…”
This declaration was a brave and audacious act born both of necessity and of faith. The Jewish people were in a severely weakened condition. Numbering a mere 800,000 citizens, they were surrounded by hostile Arab states. Yet Israel won the War of Independence and continued to win subsequent wars.
There are now 6,870,000 Jews in Israel (out of a population of roughly 9,300,000. From over 70 nations Jews have flocked to our shores and continue to come. We are a first world power; a modern nation of considerable influence.
We excel at medical and technological innovation that has benefited many across the globe; our military is second to none and our Intelligence capabilities are respected world-wide – are indeed stunning.
Ben Gurion had declared: “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”
And indeed, as we consider how Israel has thrived, we know this to be so. Especially today with all of the political unrest and diverse security threats, it is essential to remember this.
There is much that marks us as special, such as our extraordinary capacity for innovation, and our propensity to ask questions, honed by our traditional mode of religious study.
Our deepest values are religious values. Thus we are a family-oriented and child-centered culture. We show sensitivity to special-needs young people, sometimes even making it possible for them to serve in the army. What other nation does this? Because we value learning, a Bible contest is one of the major events of Yom Ha’atzmaut.
And we believe in chesed, in acts of kindness, at a national level. We have brought agricultural know-how to African villages and medical relief to children from many countries; we rush to provide assistance in emergencies across the world.
There are some serious thinkers who believe that this may yet turn out to be the century in which Israel becomes the quintessential world leader, moving to the forefront on a number of issues.
At first blush it seems perhaps an unrealistic thought, but the closer we look, the more it makes sense:
America – losing its traditional values – is falling apart in a myriad of ways. With Biden in the White House, the US has returned to a weak approach to Iran, one of concessions and backtracking. This does not work. One has to wonder why the Americans imagined it would, if indeed they truly did.
Iran has been defiantly flexing its muscles, and thus recently announced that it was further increasing its uranium enrichment at Natanz. This was after the first session of indirect meetings in Vienna between the US and Iran, which had been hailed as a successful first step in re-establishing the 2015 accord.
But then, something very interesting happened:
Just hours after starting up new more advanced centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear site on Sunday, Iran announced that a problem had developed with its electrical distribution grid. It was described as an accident. Assurances were forthcoming that the damage was minor and could be corrected quickly.
In short order it became apparent that the damage was not an accident – it may have been a cyberattack, but the NYTimes is reporting it was a remotely controlled bomb that took out the operational system and backup. The Iranians are calling it terror and threatening revenge.
However the damage was done, it was serious enough so that it set the Iranians back by an estimated nine months in their uranium enrichment.
On Sunday, the day on which this happened, Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi made a statement suggesting what was going on:
“The IDF’s actions throughout the Middle East are not hidden from the vision of our enemies, who are observing us, seeing our capabilities and carefully considering their next steps…
“…We will continue to act, combining power and discretion, determination and responsibility – all of this to guarantee the security of the State of Israel.”
While Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “The struggle against Iran and its proxies and the Iranian armament efforts is a huge mission.”
Western sources shortly after suggested that the attack had been carried out by the Mossad.
While it is not Israeli practice to directly take credit for such feats as the sabotage at Natanz, there is no reason for surprise. Remember the astonishing theft by the Mossad of huge quantities of documents from a “secure” site in Iran.
And that is the point here: What nation has the Intelligence backing, the derring-do, the inventive planning capacity, and the technological skill to carry something like this off?
More to the point, what nation understands better than Israel the need to do this?
Perhaps it is because Jews collectively, having confronted evil in a variety of guises through the millennia, understand that it is real, and cannot be bargained away. Understand better than others the need to take a strong stand against it, before it is too late. Others may think small and timidly, or imagine they can compromise with evil for economic advantage, or fail to recognize evil. We have no such luxury.
In the end it may well be that Israel, acting in her own behalf, will also act for the benefit of the world.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was here this week and met with Netanyahu.
The prime minister told Austin: “My policy as prime minister of Israel is clear — I will never allow Iran to obtain the nuclear capability to carry out its genocidal goal of eliminating Israel.”
I will return to discuss the current unresolved efforts to form a government and related issues in a matter of days. Our readiness to cope with the Palestinian Arabs is far more complex than what I have described above regarding Iran.
Now I ask that you celebrate Israel and pray for her strength and her safety.