Last year, as I approached my 40th birthday, my wife and children eagerly anticipated throwing a joyous party to mark the milestone. While shopping for supplies at the local supermarket, a fellow shopper at the checkout remarked upon the large number of items I had gathered, enquiring about the nature of the festivities. I informed them of my upcoming birthday, to which they casually retorted that they did not see the significance of birthdays, insisting that they were merely another year in one’s life.
Fortunately, their comment failed to detract from the excitement of the moment and, instead, it inspired me to reflect upon the meaning of landmark celebrations.
In my exploration of how to celebrate birthdays, I have learned from the Talmud that one’s “mazal”, or good fortune, dominates on that day. It recounts how when the evil nation of Amalek attacked the ancient Israelites, the Jewish people positioned fighters whose birthdays fell on that day on the front lines, implying that their birthdays were a lucky day for the soldiers and could potentially help sway the battle’s outcome in their favour (Jerusalem Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 3:8).
Other scholars assert that a birthday celebration should serve as an opportune moment for growth, self-reflection and action.
As the modern State of Israel approaches its 75th birthday, it’s essential to recognise the beauty of its diversity. The country’s strength and uniqueness come from the harmonious coexistence of different cultures, traditions and religions.
Just as Israel is diverse, so too can be its celebrations both within and beyond its borders. With this in mind, and inspired by the ways we mark our own personal milestones, I suggest several meaningful ways to commemorate this momentous occasion.
Celebrating Israel’s 75th birthday offers us a unique opportunity to express our gratitude and support for the Jewish State by giving to a charitable cause in Israel. While giving to those in need should be a regular occurrence, on this special day we can increase the impact of our contribution by donating generously to an Israeli cause that resonates with us. By doing so, we not only honour the country’s birthday, but also play a role in strengthening the nation and its people.
Another way is to devote extra time to prayer and meditation. By taking a few moments out of our busy schedules to connect with the divine, we can gain a deeper understanding of the significance of this milestone and the role that Israel plays in our lives.
Reciting psalms is a particularly powerful way to deepen our connection to the anniversary. The psalms are a timeless source of inspiration and guidance, and reciting the psalm corresponding to Israel’s 75th year can help us to focus our thoughts and intentions on the occasion. Whether recited individually or as part of a larger group, tehillim can help us to find a sense of peace and perspective on this important day. There are also many beautiful Yom Ha’atzmaut tefillah services that one can attend. These services are a wonderful way to celebrate Israel’s 75th birthday in a more meaningful way. The opportunity to come together with others to pray and reflect on the occasion can imbue the day with a greater sense of meaning.
In addition, we are fortunate to have many great festivities happening over this time in Australia. By participating in these events, we can join with others to commemorate the significance of this momentous occasion. According to Midrash Sechel Tov, most people view their birthday as a significant time and celebrate it with a festive meal. Why not do so for Israel?
Studying Torah and teaching others about Judaism also serve as fitting ways to celebrate, and this can include learning the many sources that expound on Israel’s spiritual significance, understanding God’s promise of the land to Abraham and the importance of Israel’s four holy cities.
Furthermore, committing to performing a particular good deed to help support Israel and promote peace and kindness can honour the milestone in a practical, impactful way.
Similar to the way we reflect on the past year and set goals for self-improvement on our personal birthdays, celebrating Israel’s 75th birthday presents an opportunity to reflect on our involvement with Israel over the past year. Have we made efforts to visit the country, support programs and events that championed Israel, or engage with the nation in a positive manner? What positive resolutions can we commit to for the year ahead?
While it is wonderful to attend the many exciting events and parties planned to celebrate modern Israel’s 75th birthday, let us also consider additional ways to mark this profound occasion. Let us take meaningful action to honour the miracle of the Jewish State, which has endured in the face of adversity and continues to shine as a beacon of hope and inspiration to the world. Happy birthday, Israel. May you continue to thrive and serve as a shining light unto the nations.
Rabbi Daniel Rabin is rabbi of Caulfield Hebrew Congregation.