Global, Identity, Israel, Politics, Religion

Why I won't give up Yom Ha-Atzma'ut

Remember when Yom Ha-atzma’ut used to be easy?
Nowadays it seems like you’ve got three choices..
You can follow our co-blogger Chorus of Apes and go all Nakba on us. You can go all “neo-Zionist” instead and lose yourself in congratulatory paroxysms of pride and militaristic extremism. See here for example. Or finally, you can waffle and prevaricate between the other two alternatives, watching any tribal joy you once felt drain out through myriad cuts of national guilt and historical revision.
The last option seems most popular in progressive Jewish circles these days. My roommates objected to my proposal for a Yom Ha-Atzma’ut House Party by saying they wanted to avoid propaganda or the appearance of it. “Maybe we should have something about the nakba too.” “We don’t want to look right wing.” “How about we go to a Brit Tzedek talk instead.” Something about Independence Day made us uncomfortable.
Yom Ha-atzma’ut looks a little funny these days. Between the alliance of Electronic Intifada and Kahane Chai to forever tarnish the word “Zionism,” and the casual abuse of patriotism by fear-mongering Republicans in the US, the idea of “national pride” has become suspect. Every 60th Birthday congratulation needs a “but..”, and every praise of the Jewish State re-born in the Jewish Homeland comes with a “however..” We’re cynical and jaded, and don’t want to buy into anything that smacks of conservative forces or creeping 21st century totalitarianism.
So we want to kill the myth of the Third Comonwealth, scuff the shine on the Zionist dream, give us nothing-but-the-facts-ma’am and add another social justice cause to the bottom of the list.
But I’m thinking that Yom Ha-atzma’ut is not something to do half-assed. Righteous foundation myths and tribal pride aren’t just kids’ stories: they’re the moral stories that give us our ideals.
Remember (if you’re American) when you first learned what really happened when the Pilgrims hit Plymouth rock. When that cartoon fantasy of harmony and shared wealth dissolved into the broken treaties of the colonists, and the cold hard earth they dug into to rob Native graves. I think that a large part of that sting,  that rage, (that righteous indignation, if you will) was the disappointment that the reality did not live up to the myth.
People we’d been taught to honor had let us down. The founding parents of institutions we’d be taught to respect and identify with had behaved in despicable ways. Which is sort of ironic, I guess. Or at least depressing.
But the real, glorious irony is that the myths never did let us down. These lies are the tales that taught us what to believe in. The myths are the prosecutor’s finger. When we hear about Israeli crimes and mistakes, whether during the War of Indepedence or today, it’s the myths that shout loudest “this was wrong. This must be remedied.” It’s the Declaration of Indepedence which was never fulfilled which kicks us in the gut and demands more effort on our part.
Our myths are our moral foundation, and I believe, something to celebrate whole-heartedly. So this is a (slightly belated) Yom Ha-Atzma’ut Same’ach from me to you, with no ifs, ands, or buts. Happy Independence Day. Make the dream a reality.

18 thoughts on “Why I won't give up Yom Ha-Atzma'ut

  1. And what, exactly, is wrong with celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut with a “but” and a “however”? “We celebrate Israel – but we also recognize that there was, indeed, an expropriation of Palestinians” seems to me a much more honest and morally correct way to celebrate. If you really do celebrate Israel, then you should also be celebrating one of its’ best qualities – its’ no-nonsense ability to look reality in the eye (as opposed to Americn Jews, who continue to live in a Leon Uris fantasy land).
    America, after much kicking and screaming, now incorporates the unsavory facts of genocide against native Americans and slavery against African Americans into its’ histories and classrooms – and the republic hasn’t collapsed. Neither will Israel.

  2. I cannot say I agree with the “no ifs, ands, or buts.” But… nice post! Its certainly a position I can respect.

  3. Pingback: 19 «
  4. I’m curious on how this applies to your (or anyone’s) celebration on July 4th here in the US.
    Do you celebrate American Independence Day with the same conflict? I ask this because it’s my impression that most Americans just don’t think about the historical realities or articulate their conflicts about US history while celebrating independence. I generally enjoy the day with Hispanic, Black, and Jewish friends without pouring endlessly over the later paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence (which pretty much foretell the future genocide of the indigenous population).
    Is everyone’s “independence” someone else’s “catastrophe”? Is it always a zero sum game?

  5. Um…. How about my nice American Jewish friends stop having dual loyalty issues. Passover is Jewish independence day, not Yom Ha’atzma’ut.
    The myth and the reality of Israel make us smaller than we really are, as Jews. I’m all for Medinat Weimar these days. Or Achad Ha’am.

  6. amen, jew guevara.
    The notion that myths inform our “moral center” when that myth leads a nation towards utter immorality. Deprogramming Zionist indoctrination is a difficult path, but the Jewish people will be better off the sooner we can collectively remove our self-imposed blinders and open our eyes.

  7. Awesome,
    You summed up exactly the way I feel. I am looking for what to tell a group of kids at my reform synagogue in (ultra pc) Boulder, CO and appreciate the support.

  8. Being in Israel this year for Yom Ha’atzma’ut, I was struck by how little political content there was to the celebrations I saw (or any content, really, and I don’t mean that in a bad way) – it was fireworks and barbecues and music and Israeli dancing, and no nationalistic propaganda. (Likewise, the Yom Hazikaron event I attended focused on the individual losses, and not the context in which those losses occurred.) This made it easier for me (as a leftie) to participate in the celebration, since there was nothing to disagree with.

  9. I should add to that comment that the all the Yom Ha’atzma’ut events I participated in were secular in nature. Saying full hallel (when we don’t even say full hallel on the 7th day of Pesach, speaking of national myths, and the Egyptians died over 3000 years ago) would have been too much.

  10. since there was nothing to disagree with
    I’ll disagree on that, but I will agree that (for a visitor) saying full Hallel on yom haatzmaut (in or outside of Israel), really makes no sense.

  11. I meant that there was nothing substantive to disagree with beyond “Yay Israel!” (which can itself be controversial, I’ll admit) — i.e. no one was saying “Death to the Arabs” or “Free Pollard” or wearing orange, etc.

  12. Free Pollard! Free all the captives. Death to no one. Moshiach now!
    The problem with history these days is the whole world is moving into a post-nationalist transition period, so none of our nationalist histories make good sense anymore, because the world is so internationalized these days, for better or worse. Thus, independence days of all countries are not the same cause for celebration they once were.
    Or are they? Jewish religious holidays ARE all actually much deeper than “they tried to kill us, they failed, lets eat”. They are filled with internal arguments that create these holy paradoxes that help us appreciate the complexity of the season and a certain part of our lives, and im yirtze Hashem, bring us closer to the best parts of ourselves and our Source.
    So maybe struggling with history on an independence day isn’t sad at all. You can wave a flag and be critical of a country’s founders, just as you can decide not to wave the flag but honor some of the virtues of those founders that shine through.

  13. Thanks to everyone who cheered, disagreed, or commented. And thanks Chorus of Apes for not taking my reference to your post as some kind of potshot at it/you.

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