Two for Israel’s Independence Day

Four silver birds flew over our house this afternoon. They flew in a diamond formation, swooping and soaring and glistening in the sun. They were so graceful and fascinating I could forget for a moment that they are fighter planes and that they were just taking time off from their normal pursuits to practice for the Independence Day air show.

My younger son, too, was fascinated by planes. Our house is still filled with the massive picture books of planes I brought back for him from my travels abroad. He knew all the planes, their engine size and maximum speed and everything else there was to know. And he dreamed of becoming a pilot.

He almost succeeded, too; he was chosen to participate in the highly selective Air Force pilot-training course and was considered a model cadet. But then he understood that Air Force pilots don’t just swoop and soar inside silver birds to entertain the crowds on Independence Day and to feel the freedom of the open skies. And that realization made it impossible for him to continue.

This is the terrible paradox we live with. We like to think that we are ethical, peace-seeking human beings who would not knowingly harm another. And yet, in the absence of peace, we force our children, in the name of defense, to train to be fighters…and to fight.

That is part of what Independence Day means.

I fly the flag on Independence Day. I put it up on the eve of the holiday and take it down 24 hours later. I believe that there must be a homeland for the Jews (not a “Jewish state”) and I celebrate the fact of its existence.

But at the same time, I want this state I live in to be fully democratic. And that means not requiring loyalty oaths and not persecuting non-Jewish citizens who do not sing the national anthem because it expresses the hopes and yearnings of a “Jewish soul.”

Yes, after Supreme Court Justice Salim Jubran stood but did not join in the singing of the national anthem at the ceremony marking the appointment of the Supreme Court’s new president, some overzealous MKs proposed that he be removed from his position. They also proposed that a law be passed to the effect that only individuals who serve in the IDF or do nonmilitary national service be allowed to sit on that bench.

Perhaps one had to have grown up in the United States in the McCarthy era to understand how horrible and sick-minded such proposals are, and they are made all too frequently here.

Merav Michaeli reported in yesterday’s Ha’aretz that in 2004 MK Mohammad Barakeh, deputy speaker of the Knesset, proposed a substitute for the anthem, Shaul Tchernichovsky’s poem whose translated title is “Creed.” The following translation, whose author’s name I have not been able to find, is not literal, but it conveys the sense of what might be an acceptable anthem for both Jews and non-Jews.

Laugh, laugh at all my dreams!
What I dream shall yet come true!
Laugh at my belief in man,
At my belief in you.

Freedom still my soul demands,
Unbartered for a calf of gold.
For still I do believe in man,
And in his spirit, strong and bold.

And in the future I still believe
Though it be distant, come it will
When nations shall each other bless,
And peace at last the earth shall fill.

Text, with the exception of the translation of the poem titled “Creed,” copyright 2012 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.


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6 Responses to “Two for Israel’s Independence Day”

  1. Rosette Strubel Says:

    How can there be a Jewish Homeland without a Jewish State? I do however agree with you about an alternative National Anthem and the statement that loyalty oaths are ridiculous!

    • estherhecht Says:

      Rosette, When the state of Israel was founded, it was called Israel, medinat hayehudim — the state of the Jews, not the Jewish state. The phrase “Jewish state” has taken on additional meaning in recent years and that meaning is antithetical to democracy. The homeland of the Jews also needs to make room — in every sense — for its non-Jewish inhabitants. It’s a difficult task, but an essential one, and it can’t be done in a “Jewish state,” a state that in practice is by, for, and about Jews only. Esther

  2. David Bennett Says:

    Heartwarming – I love to read this, Esther.

    I used to imagine a scenario – perhaps an epidemic has broken out.

    Some have stayed to help and some have gone. And I am standing in a line of people and we are passing pails of clean water along the line.

    I turn to my left to collect a bucket and I see that standing next to me is someone I know. We smile, a smile of recognition that we are both here. And then we continue.

    I hope I shall be there when it is needed.

    And by the same token, if I am called upon to fight I expect only to do so among those who also will stand and pass the buckets.

  3. Iris Chayet Says:

    Hi Esther, this piece really touched me. I shall send it on to my friends. Thanks for articulating the meaning of peace and brotherhood and sisterhood. Love, iris

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