In the past several weeks, we have celebrated liberation and redemption on Passover. On Yom Hashoah, we mourned the victims of Nazism and the generations that never were. On Yom Hazikaron, we honored the brave defenders of Israel who gave everything for the dream of the Jewish people’s right to live as a free people in our own land. Then we joyously celebrated the realization of that dream on Yom Ha’atzmaut.
These four commemorations are drawn together in many ways by rabbis and thinkers. We are mere journalists, but if you give us a moment, we, too, have some thoughts that may be worthy.
There is a troubled narrative connecting the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel, a connection that is sometimes misunderstood and often deliberately misrepresented.
Critics have called Israel a “reparations payment” given to the Jews as recompense for the Holocaust. This formulation is a desecration, because there could be no recompense for the Holocaust. More to the point, it is false history. Israel was not given to the Jewish people. The Partition Resolution, significant as it was as a fulcrum for historical events, turned out to be another hollow United Nations vote. Israel came into being only because the Jews of Palestine, some from the Diaspora and a small group of idealistic non-Jews from abroad fought – some to the death – for the dream of a Jewish homeland.
The connection between the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel is not, as the popular narrative has it, because the world felt sympathy. If anything, the world wanted to create a place for the surviving remnant so that they wouldn’t have to take responsibility for them.
Where the genuine connection lies between the tragedy of the Holocaust and the joy of independence is in the realization that the Holocaust was a direct result of Jewish statelessness. Had Israel come into being a decade earlier, there may have been no Holocaust, or its magnitude would have been much diminished. That is one connection.
Another is the psychological effect the creation of the state had on Jewish people individually and collectively, in Israel and in the Diaspora.
After the Holocaust, the Jewish people worldwide could have been expected to plummet into individual and collective despair. Instead, Israel gave hope – and a future to imagine and to build after the collective future was almost destroyed. Whether Jews made aliya – or even visited – or not, Jewish Canadians helped build the state of Israel through a million acts of philanthropy and volunteerism.
Israel is many things to many different Jews. It is a resolution to 2,000 years of statelessness, the fundamental fact that was at the root of our tragedies. It is the culmination of the quest for sovereignty and freedom and, while Israel is not perfect by any stretch, we endeavor to work toward that ideal. Israel is the dream for which so many have given so much, as well as a complex, thrilling, sometimes infuriating, always cherished reality.
In the context of millennia of Jewish civilization, the comparatively new state of Israel is a part of all of us and we are all, in some way, a part of it.