Rafi of the famous Life In Israel blog had a piece in The Jerusalem Post which raised a question that I've also asked myself - as an observant Jew, how does one best celebrate Israel's Independence Day? I reject those who say we can't innovate new holidays. There's ample precendent for communities to declare days of remembrance for good and for bad. If enough competent halachic authorities say that we can declare the 5th of Iyyar as a national holiday for all Jews, if they can also show that it is consistent with halachah that we recite the Hallel with a beracha (which is my custom) then it is established amongst the people of Israel.
But that's where my comfort ends. By my understanding, there are Jewish ways to celebrate and Jewish ways to mourn. Long-time readers of my blog (both of you) know that I'm not comfortable with the current format used by most secular communities on Yom HaShoah but that doesn't mean I am against the remembering of the six million kedoshim, chalilah. It's just that from time immemorial Jews have recalled their sorrows and mourned their losses through fasting, public acts of sadness and prayer to God that He should redeem us from our exile.
Similarly when jews celebrate it they do it with God and His Holy Torah at the centre. Look at all our major holidays that involve partying. On Simchas Torah, we dance with the Torahs in our arms and conclude the festivities not with one drunken belch but when the reading of the final and first sections of the Torah. On Purim, well okay we finish with a drunken belch but we start with the reading of the Megillah to remind ourselves that we are only alive to celebrate today because God quietly intervened in history and overthrew the wicked Haman's plans.
So it should be, in my opinion, for Yom Ha'atzmaut. A military parade in Tel Aviv (I don't think they do that anymore, do they?) and street parties across the country are fine but how does that satisfy the traditional Jew's desire to celebrate God's kindness to us and His miracles that have wrought us this deliverance? Partying for the sake of partying, seeing the establishment of the State exclusively as a result of the bravery of the men and women who fought for it without recognizing that their efforts were supported by the Ribono Shel Olam, doesn't sit well with me. As Rafi himself notes:
By nature I am a very patriotic person. I love Eretz Yisrael and I love Medinat Yisrael. I sometimes do not like things a particular government does, going against values I think should be promoted, but as a state, I love this country.
Sometimes we forget 61 years later, but the state was founded with the goal of creating a homeland for the Jewish people. Nobody wanted us back then. Now we look back and say we could have lived anywhere. But when we say that, we are saying it with the perspective and history of 61 years which would have been completely different were it not for the State of Israel.
The state gave us the ability to live as Jews in our own country, and it also gave us the ability to live as Jews in other countries. Ask any Holocaust survivor, ask anybody who was around at the formation of the state, and they will describe to you how everything was different in Western countries after the state was founded.
These things should all be recalled, lest we begin to take them for granted. But how? His solution was something I think that could be worked on. (I'm ignoring the other thread in his article, the idea that being Chareidi means you can't celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut):
So why don't we in the general haredi world? Why are we afraid that if we wave the flag we will be ostracized? Why will we be ostracized if we wave the flag?
I don't know.
The rabbis and shuls all plan learning programs on Yom Ha'atzmaut for those men who are normally at work but have the day off. It is great to be able to spend part of the day learning. These special study sessions are often on interesting topics. But do they ever plan one on the topic of Yom Ha'atzmaut? Do they ever explain to us that it is okay to celebrate somehow - or if it is not okay, then why not? All I know is that it is not accepted, but I have no idea why.
The mere existence of the state has given us so much that I have no understanding of why it is wrong to celebrate it. It seems that if the special study session was on the topic of Yom Ha'atzmaut (either explaining why it is right or wrong to celebrate), aside from the fact that the yeshiva hosting such a session would likely be packed because so many people want to hear a Torah discussion on the subject, many people would know how to approach the day properly - with direction from their rabbi via the session.
It is up to the Dati Leumi community to show the way in this regard. It has been one of my goals, mostly unstarted, to create a series of shiurim for Yom Ha'atzmaut so that Jews can get together and, on the day that God remembered us after 1900 of sufferinig, come together and learn from His Torah that this is indeed part of His plan for history, that we indeed watching the first flowering of the final redemption, may the rest of it flower real soon.
Maybe I'll get to it next year but it seems like that's the way we can show the entire Torah world that this day carries real significance for all Jews.