Yom Ha’Atzmaut

A unique and different Yom Ha’Atzmaut

No matter where we find ourselves, this Yom Ha’Atzmaut will be different.

Alex Katz
Alex Katz

This year, in a somewhat unusual turn of events, Yom Ha’Atzmaut is on the same date on both the commonand Hebrew calendars – 14 May. It is only the third time since the State of Israel’s founding that this will bethe case. Why? Because the Hebrew calendar runs on a 19 year cycle, and this year, being 76 years since the original day of Israel’s independence, is a multiple of 19 when the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars coincide.

I’ve always enjoyed coincidences and stories like that, and in the last few weeks, after I discovered this and shared it with people, it has always brought a smile to their faces and a sense of wonderment. In our trying times, even these kinds of small and insignificant titbits are cherished moments of joyous distraction. And any distraction is a good one when the world seems to be closing in on Israel and the Jewish people, and when we know that this Yom Ha’Atzmaut will be like no other.

This time last year I was on my way to Israel, along with an Aussie delegation who had just experienced the March of the Living in Poland. Israel looked very different to how it does today, but no less fractured. In fact, there were weekly protests against the government, the likes of which the country had never seen before and the size of which were only recently surpassed by Israel’s single biggest demonstration in late March, calling for Netanyahu’s resignation, amongst other things. The tone was similar last year, when the country was divided on judicial reforms and the largest of the gatherings also called for the prime minister’s resignation.

But Israel as we had always known it was the same country. Disunified and angry to be sure, but not existentially afraid, and not in the midst of a war with global ramifications. The atmosphere last year – especially on Yom Ha’Atzmaut and in the preceding days – was joyous, festive and secure. Our group, along with everyone else that was there, joined in the celebrations, saw the different sides of the country, and generally enjoyed our time. Some of our discussions were fractious, especially since within our group we had secular and religious Jews who were the majority, some Christians and even a Muslim – much like the make up of Israel itself – but all of the discussions were carried out civilly and with due respect. At the end of our time, no matter our perspectives, we saw a country that was deeply complicated, deeply fascinating and all the more complex because the distances between places are so minimally small, especially when compared to Australia.

In the year since, and especially in the last seven months, the country that we saw, even as convoluted and misunderstood as it was then, no longer exists. For much of the world it seems that even the mention of the word ‘Israel’ conjures up feelings of hatred, or at the very least a sense that such a place shouldn’t exist the way it does, even if they know almost nothing about it. We know as Jews that the Jewish people, but more specifically the people of Israel, have contributed more to fields like technology, medicine, law, education, politics, business and many others, than almost anyone else, though jealousy for those achievements may be the cause of some of the vile that we are currently seeing. And especially because most of hatred against Israel is not very well disguised as pure and unadulterated antisemitism.

I don’t know what to do about it and I am not here to propose any solutions. I’ll leave that to our communal leaders and to others who may know how to deal with it. But as someone who attends many events, I have absorbed some things over the last few months that I do want to share. And really it comes down to two main points:

The first is that as dire as the situation might sometimes appear, and as scary as some of the vitriol definitely is, we need to remember and keep reminding ourselves that this is not 1939 all over again. The majority of people, although they might be silent, are mostly on our side, but more importantly, sometimes it feels worse than it does because of the amplification of social media and because we are living through it. But we also live in a world where we can defend ourselves – literally in the case of the IDF and figuratively in the case of everyone else – and in a world where the threat for most of us is not existential. Sure, it feels very bad and scary, especially on university campuses and at demonstrations in the city, but like all fads, these will pass and for most of us life will go on. In our Jewish communities we also have a lot more protection and a lot more political influence than some might think, and certainly more than the Jews of Europe did, so we shouldn’t be so afraid.

On that note, the second thing that I have learned is that we need to be bolder and prouder than we have ever been. Speaking in generalities of course, why is the Holocaust the only lesson that has been mandated in schools about Jewish history? Judaism has such a rich history and such a large cannon of works, yet most people out in the community are unaware that so much of what they do and know comes from Judaism. At the very least, if we had acknowledged the original inhabitants of the land of the bible, namely the Children of Israel, in the same way that we acknowledge the indigenous people of Australia, then maybe now there wouldn’t be a debate about who are the rightful custodians of the land. And we need to do this with other things too. We need to show that we are Jews with a proud and rich past and with a contribution to the world unmatched in global history.

No matter where we find ourselves, this Yom Ha’Atzmaut will be different. Whether it will be because it is a unique calendar anomaly or simply because Israel and the world has changed since last year. But no matter the reason, I for one will be celebrating proudly, and I hope the rest of the community does too.

Alex Katz is a Melbourne Jewish Community Activist. 

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