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A Yom Haatzmaut Reflection

05/10/2019 11:17:46 AM


Today, Jews in Israel and the world over celebrate Yom Haatzmaut. On this day in 1948, we imed sovereignty over Israel, our holy land that was promised by G-d to our patriarchs and matriarchs thousands of years ago.

We witnessed open miracles of G-d as we fought to reclaim our land, just like when the Jews - led by Joshua - conquered the land for the first time.

We ought to be very grateful for this great gift of our times. In just a short time, Jews and Jewish life has flourished in Israel. Israel has emerged as a model society for freedom, morality, innovation and courage. The strength of our Jewish army has provided greater security to Jews all over the world. Vibrant Jewish communities have been built, immersed in Torah study, mitzvot and Jewish lifestyle. The promises of our ancient prophets have begun to come alive.

To be sure, we have paid a heavy price for this gift. Lots of innocent Jewish blood has been spilled. Many of our enemies continue to spew hatred and antisemitism. As we reflected on Yom Hazikaron, almost every Israeli family has experienced a tragedy which has painfully affected their life.

Even here in the United States of America we have witnessed a rise in antisemitic rhetoric and violence. The wounds from the shootings in the Synagogues in Poway CA and in Pittsburgh PA are still raw.

Last week I was in a beautiful large Synagogue in the Kazimierz district of Krakow Poland. Kazimierz housed the prominent Jewish community of Krakow since the 15th century. The Tempel Synagogue was built in the 1860's, and its richly finished interior is adorned with dense patterns painted in many colors and copious amounts of gold leaf. I was leading a March of the Living group of senior high-school students from Miami-Dade. We were on a trip to learn more about the holocaust. As all 180 of us gathered there, I told the students a story:

"There was once a Synagogue, and on a Shabbat morning a shooter stormed in and began shooting. A congregant was killed, several congregants were wounded, and the Rabbi covered his wounds with a bloodstained tallit and shouted proudly words of hope and courage."

The room was silent. When I finished the story I said, "I'm not telling you a holocaust story. I'm telling you a story that happened three days ago." When I finished speaking, we all cried out loudly, "Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad!"

Friends, we are living in testing times. On the one hand, we are fortunate to live in one of the most glorious times for Jews in world history. On the other hand, our memory of the holocaust is still very fresh, and 'never again' doesn't appear to be guaranteed.

Now more than ever, the world needs the Jews. Jews have served as the original and oldest voice in the world for peace and morality. Influenced by our covenant with G-d and our commitment to the Torah, we have modeled the values of respect, love, purpose and hope.

Now more than ever, we need to stand proudly as G-d's ambassadors in the world. The decisions and behavior of each one of us has a profound impact not just on our own families and community, but to the world at large.

We believe that our world and its inhabitants, all created by G-d, are essentially good. Unfortunately, a lack of education and spiritual guidance has led many to lose sight of their innate spark of G-d and their true purpose in this world. It is our task to shine greater light in the world so that everyone can join the universal mission of humanity to transform this world into a holy space.

We yearn for the coming of Moshiach and the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies, when true peace and awareness of G-d will fill the entire world.

As we celebrate Yom Haatzmaut today, we also pray for our brothers and sisters there. This morning during Shacharit, we prayer for the welfare of Israel and the IDF soldiers. We watched a short video of a lone-soldier, a granddaughter of a member in our community, as she spoke proudly about her decision to join the IDF and her commitment to help the Jewish people.

We pray for the strengthening of Torah and Jewish values in Israel, by all Jews living there. We pray for peace. For prosperity. For safety. For redemption.

Once the celebrations are over, we should reflect on how we, or rather I, will do my part to fulfill the Jewish mission. Perhaps you'll join the community and come to Shul on Shabbat; or attend a Torah study class; or add an extra mitzvah; or wear your Jewish identity more boldly; or volunteer to help in a community project; or donate tzedakkah.

The possibilities and needs are endless. But now is a time for action.

As I was leaving Israel on Tuesday night, I stood in the check-in line at Ben Gurion airport. At 8:00 pm, the Memorial Day siren blasted around the country. Every station in the airport shut down and everyone stood silently. An elderly worker driving a floor polishing machine turned off the motor, climbed out of the machine, took of his hat, and stood at attention. When I saw this, I sang King David's song from Tehillim 126: "Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. When the Lord will return the exiles of Zion, then our mouth will be filled with laughter, and our tongue with songs of joy."

Amen, may it happen speedily in our days.

G-d bless Israel! G-d bless America! G-d bless the world and all of us!

[Above is a picture of our Leo Martin March of the Living group, standing in Auschwitz Concentration Camp preparing for the march. It is a picture of hope and pride.]

Fri, April 19 2024 11 Nisan 5784