Throughout the seven decades since it declared independence, Israel has waged a struggle for legitimacy, navigating the global arena to find its place among the nations. While many factors went into Israeli independence, the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947 and subsequent Resolution 181 laid the foundation. For Israel’s 69th Independence Day, JNS.org looks at how four countries actively involved in the historic 1947 vote not only shaped Israeli history, but have robust current relationships with the Jewish state and might play key roles in the country’s future.
With its forces vastly outnumbered by Arab armies, Israel’s victory in the 1948 War of Independence was widely considered a modern-day miracle. The Jewish state shocked the world again in 1967 by significantly expanding its borders and reunifying Jerusalem during the Six-Day War. In 2017, the perceived miracles keep coming. Ahead of the 69th Israeli Independence Day, JNS.org recounts five of Israel’s latest crowning achievements.
In January 2016, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Manpower Directorate report revealed that 36 Israeli soldiers died in 2015, marking the lowest single-year death toll the Israeli military has experienced in a decade. But although no major military operations took place in Israel last year, the fall season saw the start of a months-long (and ongoing) wave of Palestinian terror attacks that has so far claimed the lives of 34 people since Sept. 13, 2015. The attacks began in the vicinity of the Temple Mount and eastern Jerusalem before spreading to Judea and Samaria as well as central Israel. To mark Israel’s annual memorial day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, Yom Hazikaron, JNS.org looks back at the IDF and civilian victims of the current wave of terror.
More than any other topic, the Bible is in love with Israel, and nearly every page of the Tanakh (Torah, Prophets, Writings) bursts with passionate descriptions about the beauty of the Land. The all-new website www.TheIsraelBible.com highlights these incredibly moving passages along with interactive maps, entertaining videos, and a unique commentary that honors the God, the People of Israel, and the Land of Israel. From the thousands of beautiful passages throughout the Tanakh that describe our miraculous land, Rabbi Tuly Weisz presents 68 biblical verses to celebrate Israel’s 68th birthday.
Israel is a magical place where strangers invite one another to share Shabbat meals, and before you know it, you are extended family. But this magical land also is one of contradictions and challenges that leave Jerry Silverman in a constant struggle as he tries to understand his relationship with Israel—leaving him frustrated and wondering why this magical country is unable to also deal with the challenging issues. Then he remembers that as we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), the modern State of Israel at 68 is a young country, still maturing and finding its way. Diaspore Jews must acknowledge Israel’s flaws and push it to improve, but that should never preclude our standing together with Israel, writes Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America.
Despite Christianity being founded in Judea more than two millennia ago, Christians have long kept a low profile in Israel. But in the last few years, the Jewish state’s Christian minority has stepped up its visibility while seeking greater integration and participation within Israeli society, much like other minority groups such as the Druze and Bedouin. Though Israeli Christians were long considered a minority within a minority, the Israeli government has in recent years taken steps to distinguish Christians from the rest of the country’s Arab minority. Last year, Israel officially recognized the existence of an ethnic group of Christians known as “Arameans,” who consider themselves to be the descendants of Aramaic-speaking Semitic people dating back to the Late Bronze Age more than 3,000 years ago. Now that they have a higher profile, JNS.org examines how some within Israel’s 165,000-strong Christian community view and celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day).
You could call it Israel’s version of former U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “fireside chat.” President Reuven Rivlin sat down with English-speaking reporters in advance of his first Israel Independence Day as head of state, and laid out both his vision and his concerns for Israel’s future. Since he took office last July, tone of the Rivlin presidency has been markedly different than that of Shimon Peres, his predecessor. Peres was seen as a senior statesman of the world, counting presidents and celebrities amongst his admirers, while Rivlin displays a more down-to-earth demeanor. He articulates what many regular Israelis may feel—but how many other world leaders question the future existence of their state? “For me, until now, it’s not obvious that we are in a position that Israel is a fact and will last forever,” Rivlin says.
From a military perspective, the past year has been even more taxing than usual for Israel, given last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. During the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Operation Protective Edge, which started as an air campaign before its ground phase targeted Hamas’s network of terror tunnels running under the Israeli border, 66 IDF soldiers were killed. The sobering cost of Israel’s military reality is reflected annually on Yom Hazikaron (Israel Memorial Day). JNS.org looks back at the Israeli soldiers who lost their lives during the Gaza war and in other incidents since last Yom Hazikaron.
Not as famous as director Steven Spielberg is his sister Nancy, the filmmaker. Lesser known than the Israelis who fought for their country’s independence were the American pilots who secretly joined that fight. Ahead of Israel’s 67th Independence Day, a new documentary is fusing those two unsung elements. In 1948, just three years after the liberation of Nazi death camps, a group of American Jewish pilots answered a call for help. In secret and at great personal risk, they smuggled planes out of the U.S., trained behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia, and flew for Israel in its War of Independence. They embarked on personal journeys of discovery and renewed Jewish pride. Nancy Spielberg's “Above and Beyond” presents their story.
Call it the reverse Tower of Babel story. When a united humanity speaking the same language tried to build a tower to reach the heavens, God confounded their speech. But in the early days of modern Israel, a clash of tongues made life difficult—until Hebrew became “the glue that brought the people together,” says Rabbi Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, grandson of the “Father of Modern Hebrew” bearing the same name. “Imagine if David Ben-Gurion had delivered the 1948 Declaration of Israeli Independence in Yiddish. Israel would not only be a different country, but Israelis would know a different existence,” Rabbi Eliezer says last month in New York City at the first event of a new initiative called “Hagigah Ivrit”—a cultural series and festival featuring educational lectures, film screenings, Israeli music, art, and social activities for children and adults.
Leading up to the 67th birthday of the State of Israel, it may be difficult to stay upbeat given the rising anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism around the world. On American college campuses, the situation has been especially grave—but the picture may not be as gloomy as it seems. A report released in February by the Israel on Campus Coalition revealed that pro-Israel activity on U.S. campuses has actually increased in the wake of the war between Israel and Hamas last summer and the uptick in terrorism against Jews in Israel last fall. JNS.org provides a snapshot of some of the college campuses on which pro-Israel activists have taken unique steps or have made major strides in their quest to support the Jewish state.
“Most Jews today never saw all of this... Only someone who looks at the entire 2,000 years and sees Jews being led into exile by Titus, sees the Crusades and pogroms—only someone who sees all of this understands the meaning of Jewish independence,” wrote Rabbi Yehuda Amital in 2010. Koren Publishers Jerusalem is hoping to change that through its new “Yom Ha’atzmaut Mahzor,” the first-ever translation into English of the Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) liturgies that were established by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. The mahzor (holiday prayer book) includes optional prayers such as Hallel and Al-HaNissim—which are mandatory on many biblical Jewish holidays—as well as a collection of essays by a diverse mix of leading scholars in the modern Orthodox and religious Zionist worlds.
In the recently published “Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947,” Bruce Hoffman raises a difficult question on the first page of the book: Does terrorism work? The rest of his book is an effort to answer that question, using the Irgun and the Stern Gang and their efforts to drive Britain out of Mandatory Palestine as the test case. Hoffman’s answer is yes. He claims that these two pre-state militant Zionist groups groups deserve the credit for driving the British out of Palestine and for making a Jewish state possible, but his argument is not convincing to book reviewer Rabbi Jack Riemer—and even if it were, it is not necessarily transferable to other places and to other situations, Riemer writes.
Conceived seven years ago by American immigrant to Israel Eric Halivni, the Toldot Yisrael (Chronicles of Israel) initiative has been quietly working to do for the creators of the Jewish state what Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History project has done for Holocaust memory. To date, with funding from several prominent U.S foundations and private individuals, Toldot Yisrael has completed 1,000 interviews resulting in 3,000 hours of raw footage. “It’s not only about the War of Independence,” Halivni says. “We’re documenting people who were witnesses to history.”
For one day in the spring, the humble falafel is all but forgotten as Israelis fire up their grills for some serious meat-eating. In that way, Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day), which falls on the fifth day of the Hebrew-calendar month Iyar, is not all that different from its American counterpart, the Fourth of July.