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Viewpoint by Dr Danny Lamm – 24 April 2009

So why celebrate?

First published in the Australian Jewish News

A lot can change in just one year.

Israel’s 60th independence day celebrations in 2008 were joyous and whole hearted. We in Victoria, like communities from Brussels to Buenos Aires, from Peru to Paris, from Johannesburg to Jerusalem, presented concerts and activities which captured the attention and the imagination of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

The year that followed has already presented many challenges, not only to Israel, but to those of us who identify with Israel’s values, with the very notion of the Jewish state.

In July last year, hopes for Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, kidnapped from Israel’s northern border in 2006, were dashed as they were returned, in coffins, in a prisoner exchange deal. We continue to hope for the release of Gilad Shalit – for his safe return to his family and his home. However, the intransigence of Hamas, and what can only be read to be their callous disregard, after months of negotiation and hope, has yet again stonewalled the process.

2009 began with the war against Hamas in Gaza. The impending threat of Iran hangs heavy over Israel and the western world. As I write, PM Bibi Netanyahu is navigating through the complexities of establishing the policies of his new government. Add to this the global economic crisis, which, despite Israel’s buoyant economy is bound to have a negative effect.

The Durban 2 review conference is shaping up to be yet another opportunity for nations hostile to Israel and indeed western democratic values to vilify, pillory and castigate just one state – Israel. We are grateful that Australia has chosen to stand tall amongst those principled nations who refuse to participate in this conference. Israel faces powerfully negative media, and that means that we do too. These misperceptions about Israel, the anti-Israel rallies and propaganda have significant impacts on our community. We are concerned that the increase in anti-Israel anti-semitic activity, which is empirically demonstrated, will erode confidence within our community as people will attempt to be more “discreet” or private about their connections with Israel. They may “bunker down”, not attend communal events, particularly those which are public and open.

Nowhere is this issue more acute than on the university campuses. With segments of the university population known as hotbeds of anti Israel thought and activity, our students today face pressures not seen at this level since the mid-70s and the infamous attempts to link Zionism with racism.

In the midst of all this doom and gloom, what’s the relevance of a celebration? There are those who think we should be spending all our time on advocacy, media response and education. Of course, all this is important, and vitally so. Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut give us a perfect opportunity to stop and take stock, to think about what has been sacrificed and why and to reflect on Israel as the successful, achieving Jewish nation. After all, is this not what all of our other efforts are directed towards?

We have a responsibility, indeed an obligation to celebrate. In our celebrations, we stand in solidarity, in collective and public pride with Israel. Amongst all the negativity, what better way of saying out loud that we support Israel, we believe in Zionism, we appreciate all that Israel has contributed not only to the Jewish people but to the world in general. Just as the Jewish calendar mandates the annual celebration of our freedom from the slavery of ancient Egypt in Pesach, on Yom Ha’atzmaut we are obliged to rejoice in our national self-actualisation, the establishment of the modern State of Israel. After 2000 years of statelessness, is this not something that warrants our observance and celebration?

As author Eli Wiesel wrote; “…In spite of all the dangers, the threats and the wars, we have Israel. Generations and generations could not and we can.”

In Israel we have not only a historical and spiritual homeland, but also a physical, political, vibrant state – a first world, technologically advanced, socially developed homeland. 

Israel is more to us than an occasional holiday destination, or a location where our favourite charity is based. Israel and the diaspora, including us here in far-away Australia, are inextricably linked and mutually dependent. When Israel faces terror, we worry, when Israel triumphs in whatever field, we share in the pride.

We have to take the opportunity to revel and rejoice in Israel’s anniversary – in Yom Ha’atzmaut. We need to celebrate it, with our families and our community, to ensure that our future generations will care as we do. Just as we universally embrace the Seder, the miracle of national liberation from the Egyptians, we must embrace Yom Ha’atzmaut and its celebration as the modern miracle of national liberation.

Whilst the calendar is full, with Pesach followed by Yom Hashoa, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, there is a natural rhythm to it. We cannot celebrate without acknowledging the sacrifices made, but in doing so, we appreciate all the more that Israel is something we cannot take for granted.