The Fading of a Binary World: Two-Way Street for Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut

Rabbi Stanley Davids
on May 2, 2022

Abraham Lincoln famously said, ”A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln was actually rephrasing what Matthew 12:22-28 asserts that Jesus said. It’s a good quote, very popular, but I don’t believe that it reflects historical, theological, ethical, political, or psychological reality. Every political house, every human being, every theological and ethical system, every serious work of history necessarily reflects that one way or another, we are all divided against ourselves. And for the most part, we are still standing.

As a citizen of Israel, I remember standing silently in my Jerusalem café as the sirens went off on Yom HaZikaron – Israel’s Day of Remembrance, honoring the memory of those who have fallen while on active duty as well as the civilian victims of terrorism. 24 hours later I was in my seat on Mount Herzl, celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. Weeping had given way to celebration (and long speeches, fireworks – followed by smoke from picnic grills filling the air).

Of course, I felt the divisions in my soul. Celebrating independence purchased through the heroism of Israel’s citizen soldiers. Mourning losses while enjoying a noisy and happy family gathering. Which one is Israel? Both – and much, much more.

Part of the official Yom HaAtzmaut celebration involves the kindling of torches by those considered to have made significant contributions to Israeli culture, society, and social services. How wonderful it was that a Reform Rabbi, Richard Hirsch, was selected one year to light a torch in recognition of his landmark leadership of the World Zionist Organization. How painful it was that he could not publicly be described as RABBI Richard Hirsch. Many of us both applauded proudly and held back rage. Which one is Israel – the celebration or the defamation? Both – and much, much more.

Israel celebrates its Megillat HaAtzmaut, its Declaration of Independence. It is a beautiful, lofty, inspirational, and aspirational document. It speaks of equality for all of Israel’s citizens. It calls for gender equality and the dream of a society held together by a respectful embrace and legal protection of the diversity of Israel’s citizens. But most scholars believe that Megillat HaAtzmaut could never be adopted today by Israel’s Knesset, its parliament. To bring that foundational document to the floor of the Knesset would probably lead to its rejection. Which one is Israel, the dream or the denial? Both – and much, much more.

Peace? A word with far too many divergent meanings. Within the world Jewish community, most want peace between Israel and its Palestinian citizens and its Palestinian neighbors. Most of us who are pro-Israel Zionists see a two-state solution as the only reliable pathway toward peace. We see the continuing occupation of the West Bank as either THE or A major obstacle to that solution. We see the Israeli government either as THE or A source of the current stalemate.

And in proper binary fashion we attack or severely criticize those who describe both the problem and the possible resolution of that problem differently than we do. We are a house divided against ourselves. Which one is Israel? The Israel willing to move forward immediately toward a two-state solution? The Israel reluctant to do anything that would endanger its security? The Israel that feels that it has a Divine mandate to possess the most expansive borders of the Promised Land? The Israel that requires our unquestioning support in these very uncertain times? Which one is Israel? The right; the left; the center-right; the center-left? All of them – and much, much more.

We are a house divided, and we can make that into a source of great strength. Peace? Absolutely yes. A two-state solution? Absolutely yes. Is everyone who opposes our version of that vision necessarily wrong? Only in a long discarded binary world. The pro-Israel Zionist house has many rooms. It should be part of our vision to open a door to potential allies – with wisdom, with political sagacity, and with an eye on the endgame.

All of the above explains why at the end of my Passover Seder I recite: L’shana Ha-Ba-ah B’Yerushalayim Ha-B’nuyah. Next year, may Zion, Jerusalem, Israel be a nation capable of living its noblest dreams, in peace and with security.

Hazak Ve-Ematz.

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