From sorrow to joy, from Memorial Day to Independence Day. From weeping to celebration. From death to life. Only a week ago, Israel mourned the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. The sirens sounded throughout the land. Most of the country stopped whatever they were doing and stood in silent reflection of the most heinous crime of the twentieth century or of all time.
A week later, two days ago, the country again stopped in silent remembrance of those who gave their lives so that this country could be established and could continue to exist. It was Memorial Day, a day when Israel honors not only the members of the Israel Defense Forces (the IDF) who were killed, but also those who were killed through acts of terror, which continue to this day. It was a day of national sorrow, a day that for some is repeated with every sunrise and which doesn’t end with sundown. It is a day when others join in the pain and emotions of grief. It is a day when the media are filled with stories of lives cut short through war and terrorism, mixed with stories of heroism and self-sacrifice. At various times throughout the day, it seemed that even the heavens were grieving with us. There was “weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15). Only a stone would not shed tears over the stories shared over the main television stations here. And then, while the endless stream of tears of sorrow still flowed over the loss of our sons and daughters, our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, our friends and co-workers and the people who live next door, the country somehow shifted gears, as the pain of loss turned to expressions of joy and celebration – Israel began to celebrate its 73rd year of indepenence. It was as if some unseen switch was pressed in our national consciousness, enabling and even necessitating our exiting from the darkness and heaviness of the day to entering into the light and release from the thoughts and emotions of yesterday, to the hopes and anticipations of the dawning of a new day.
A year ago, Memorial Day was a compounded sorrow. Families were not permitted to visit military cemeteries because of health restrictions, adding to the emotional stress and strain of the day. The same is true for the day that followed. Israel’s 72nd Independence Day was different from any that had occurred up until then. Independence day celebrations were clouded over with the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, resulting in national shutdowns and restrictions, preventing public gatherings and adding to the frustrations of confinement. But, even then, people celebrated on their balconies, singing songs, blessings neighbors and friends, calling, “zooming”, communicating in a variety of different ways that were accessible via the technology of the day. We socially-distanced, hugged via the internet, sent greetings and words of encouragement and did what we could to break the depressive spirit of the lockdowns and to enter into the collective joy of independence as a nation.
What a difference a year makes. While the pandemic is not defeated, it no longer controls every aspect of our national and private lives. Families were able to visit the gravesites of their loved ones, public gatherings are once again allowed. It was a time to celebrate and Israel wasted no time in making the effort to restore the joy of Independence Day. It was a brilliant, technological accomplishment. The annual torch-lighting ceremony included a dozen lighters of the flames, young and old, from teenager to centenarian, Jew and Arab, professional and volunteer, secular and religious. All gave their short, prepared speeches. All referred to themselves as children of mom and dad, mentioning them by name, some of who had passed on and some who were still living. All gave praise and honor to the part of the community where they serve and all end with “to the glory of the State of Israel” as the last statement before lighting the flame. The “official” speeches acknowleged those who serve to protect and defend the country against her enemies, those who serve selfishly to preserve life and to tend to the sick, those who volunteer and encourage others to “love their neighbor” and to remember that, despite our differences, we can and should seek to unify, rather than to divide. Lofty goals. And today, with the sun shining and temperatures befitting of mid-April, the country took to the parks, to the open areas, to the beaches, to the restaurants, to the public celebrations of the day. It appeared as though life was once again becoming liveable.
But, not all who live here stand in remembrance of the six million who were killed in the Holocaust. Not all stand in silence in honor of Israel’s fallen on Memorial Day. Not all celebrate Israel’s independence. Posters and flags of “Palestine” were raised by certain groups in different places in Israel. There were efforts to disrupt national celebrations from the north to the south, “from Dan to Beersheva”.
All of the events of the past week – Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day, ended, as they do each year, with the recitation of the Psalm of Asaph, Psalm 83. The author prays that God would defeat our enemies and destroy their foundations. But, he also prays that they would be embarrassed over their deeds and recognize God’s sovereignty. As long as they seek to destroy us as a people, as long as they seek that the name of Israel would be no more (83:4), Israel’s enemies can be extinguished. But, the desire of the writer is that the day will come “that they will know that You along, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth” (83:18).
The promise to Abraham of 4,000 years ago was, among other things, “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great…And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). The enemies of Israel hate the God of Israel and try to prevent the blessing that God has promised. But, that is contrary to the multitude of God’s promises, including Isaiah 54:17 – “‘No weapon forged against you will prevail and you will refute every tongue that acuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from Me”, declares the LORD.“
Israel was and exists because of God’s calling and His faithfulness. Anything that we have been able to accomplish is because He has enabled us to do so. May we never take credit for what God has done. May we celebrate our independence as a sovereign nation, but remember that we are called by God for His purposes and for His glory. May our celebrations of independence never replace our total dependence on Him. “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even their enemies to be at peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:7)
There is a time for all things under heaven. It’s celebration time. Happy Birthday, Israel.
And while celebrating, remember: bless, be blessed and be a blessing.