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Issues of the Day From Memorial Day to Independence Day, A Passage

Passover came early this year and, accordingly,  other milestones of the Hebrew calendar arrived in quick succession: Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day  was commemorated on April 7th, and then eight days later Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen defenders and victims of terrorism, was observed.

Jewish and Israeli holidays begin and end at sunset, and Memorial Day, an arduous day of national mourning,  gives rise at nightfall to Independence Day, which then leaps into our national psyche and seizes it with gladness and pride. 
From  one dusk to another, the Israeli nation goes from utter solemnity and grieving for those who fell in our defense to spirited celebration of our collectivity and national achievements.

I went for my daily power walk last evening at twilight, just as Israel’s most somber day of the year was about to give way to our most joyous one. As I proceeded along my usual route I gazed across the landscape at the hills of Jerusalem and the surrounding area.  

In the declining light, cool and crystal clear, the view was exquisite: The meadows and woodlands that reach to the villages of Motza and  Beit Zayit (“House of the Olive) seemed close enough to reach out and touch, and the Jerusalem  neighborhoods of Yafe Nof  (“Beauteous Vista”) and Ein Kerem (“Spring of the Vineyard”) appeared as though they were rare gifts left on the terrain to elevate the souls of those fortunate enough to set their eyes upon them.


Ein Kerem, an ancient pilgrimage site and popular tourist destination is clearly demarked in the distance by the gold-domed Moscovia Church and Hadassah Hospital, an internationally renowned center of healing and research that looms above Jerusalem as if to embrace it, ready to serve as a haven for its ill and injured.

To the north is a drab counterpoint, Har HaMenuchot, Mount of Rest, a sprawling cemetery perched above the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway along the final approach to the capital. It is straddled by the Jerusalem Forest, which clothes the rocky slopes that for centuries had been denuded in a cloak of green.  


On the eastern side of the highway the Ramot neighborhoods huddle and declare their permanence, and Har Hotzvim stands stout, an industrial and high-tech park where firms like Intel and Teva proudly display their presence with large signs on their extensive edifices.

On the horizon, beyond the religious neighborhoods of Sanhedria and Ramat Eshkol, the iconic tower of the Faculty of Law at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus pierces the skyline and asserts its centrality in the national body politic.


Sixty-five years since winning its independence, the State is no longer young. Having absorbed waves of refugees from across the globe that make Israeli society a spectrum of colors, tastes and sounds, Israel  is today home to half of world Jewry. As I pondered what I viewed on the vista, I put politics  and criticism of the society out of mind and thought: What wondrous achievements have been wrought here, despite the challenges, despite the hostility.


As I swept along the familiar route, conscious of the day’s sober mood of remembrance for those who had perished while defending us, wherever my gaze rested along the arresting landscape I felt a profound respect for what has been produced here, in the Land of Israel, over the past century and a half since the Jewish return to our homeland began and with it the end of exile. I looked at these ancient lands and felt them to be the tissue of my being; my past and destiny are cast here.  I felt thankfulness for this place, which though meager in natural resources, is good and sufficient for my people to live on and to live well. 

By the efforts of the founders of the state and the two generations who have  succeeded here, our place under the sun has been secured. It is good and plenty and nothing will move us from it.


I hope  that our neighbors, the Palestinians, will, as we Israelis must, learn to share our common land and desist from falling into the trap that  territorial maximalism champions: That security and national wellbeing depend on the recovery of all that is claimed to be historically “ours.”

Attempts by both Jews and Arabs to wrest hegemony over our shared life-place has exacted too many victims, lengthening the roster of those who we have lost and remember on Memorial Day.  

As the father of a combat soldier who serves in a frontline unit, Yom HaZikaron is a day of acute concern for me. My son’s fate, our fate, is a source of deep and continuing preoccupation, and is especially profound on this day.   


The dark spirit that descends on the Land of Israel each Yom HaZikaron and that is then dispelled at nightfall with the coming of Independence Day and the exhilaration that it brings, evokes the saying attributed to Rebbe Nachman: The bridge of life is narrow. What is incumbent on us is that we cross it with courage.

I take pride in knowing that despite the perils of our return here, the hardships it entailed, my people undertook the passage from darkness to light, from despair to hope, which is manifested everywhere one turns in Israel today. 

© Yosef Gotlieb, . All rights reserved