By Rabbi Joshua Levine-Grater*

Today we commemorate Yom HaZikaron, and tomorrow we celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's 58th birthday. These consecutive, emotionally charged days first honor Israel's fallen heroes of war, and then, immediately afterward, celebrate the birth of the modern Jewish State of Israel. As we give thanks for the miracle that is Israel, we must do so recognizing the harsh reality that all is not well, and that while many things are amazing, inspiring and remarkable, all is not glorious on this special day in the life of the state. In times of uncertainty, it is very hard to craft a meaningful message for a future date. Yet, in the Middle East, this has been the reality for decades on end. No one can know what will take place tomorrow. I can't know if innocent Israeli civilians will be killed by Palestinian suicide bombers or if innocent Palestinian civilians will be killed by the IDF as "collateral damage"; I can't know how many missiles will be fired into Gaza by IDF fighters or how many Qassams will be launched toward Israel; I can't know how much angry and accusatory rhetoric will be hurled toward Israelis or toward Palestinians; I can't know if the Hamas leadership will ever engage in diplomacy or if Prime Minister Olmert will ever pursue final status negotiations with total kavanah, a total intention of desiring an end to this conflict, beyond just temporary management.

I can't know how many Jews around the world will finally admit and acknowledge that ending the occupation and negotiating final borders is the only path to peace in Israel; I can't know if all of Israel's neighbors will ever accept Israel as a permanent reality and end their hostility and anger. I can't know if our American government will have the sense and reason to engage fully in creating peace, and appoint a permanent high-level envoy to stay on the job until a summit can be called and final status negotiations concluded; I can't know if the rest of the Arab world will follow through on its commitments to the Palestinian people and help broker a deal they are committed to uphold. I can't know what tomorrow will bring; but I can know what I hope and pray for.

For in times of uncertainty, hope is the great equalizer, the steady barometer that keeps us afloat. It is no coincidence that "Hatikvah", The Hope, is the anthem of Israel. The Jewish people are a people of hope. What we can hope for on this Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut is the courage to seek peace with all of our hearts, all of our souls and all of our might. We can hope for the day when Israel ends the occupation, removes settlements and stops building a wall that, had it been built along the 1967 borders, would have been be supported by everyone, but is currently ruining Palestinian villages and livelihoods. We can hope for the day when Hamas recognizes Israel and ceases to call for its destruction, stops supporting suicide bombings, and accepts the mantle of governance that its people elected it to. We can hope for the patience and wisdom to stay the course of peace, stay the course of a negotiated, two-state solution, no matter how sweetly unilateralism sings, and to remember that as Jews, we know what it is like to be oppressed and dominated, and that we were brought forth from Egypt to help create a different world, a different light. Shalom is possible; not easy, not fast, not neat, but possible. I once heard Shimon Peres say that making war is easy, but making peace is the most difficult endeavor facing humankind. Let us make this year one where we commit to the more difficult path of peace. It certainly will pay greater dividends in the long run. And that is something I can know for sure.


Suggestions for Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) and Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day): 
  • Light a yartzeit candle (long-burning candle in a glass used for mourning) and hold a minute of silence in honor of Yom HaZikaron at gatherings of friends, family or Brit Tzedek members. End with something celebratory, perhaps sharing memories of positive attachments to Israel.

  • Make a call to the Parents' Circle - Families Forum Peace Hotline and/or share the hotline information with friends and family. Given that this group is made up of individuals who have lost loved ones in the conflict and "have chosen to channel their grief into the pursuit of reconciliation and tolerance, rather than to look for a path of revenge and further bloodshed," it is an appropriate way to mark Yom HaZikaron. The hotline offers Americans the chance to call individual Israelis and/or Palestinians. For more information go to: http://www.hellopeace.net/callusa.htm

  • Hold a ceremony between Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut. You might choose to excerpt one or two poems or readings or use the entire ceremony written by Brit Tzedek Rabbinic Cabinet member Rabbi Rebecca Lillian. Be sure to edit the materials to reflect that this year is the 58th anniversary of Israel's independence.

  • Participate in community celebrations of Yom Ha'atzmaut, including your local "Walk for Israel," wearing Brit Tzedek buttons and t-shirts. Show your community that you stand with them in support of Israel, even though you may have an alternative vision of what it means to be pro-Israel. For more information about acquiring Brit Tzedek paraphernalia, please write to info@btvshalom.org.

  • Gather together with a hevruta (study partner) or better yet, a group of people, to discuss Israel's Declaration of Independence. Use this time as an opportunity to connect with the ideals of the founders of Israel, to share what those ideals mean to you, and to recommit to fulfilling the dream by supporting efforts in Israel that move it toward justice and peace.

    Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel has created Masechet Haatzma'ut, a Talmudic style commentary on the Declaration of Independence, which can be used to guide such discussions. RHR's discussion questions include: How has this vision of the founders of Israel inspired me? In what ways does it reflect my vision of Israel and in what way is it different from my own? How did the authors of the Declaration envision creating a state that is at one and the same time a Jewish state yet also a state that affords equality to all its citizens? How can we build a state that is both Jewish and democratic? What am I prepared to do over the coming year to help fulfill the vision of a state that is based on freedom, justice and peace, as envisaged by the prophets of Israel?
Please send any additional suggestions you have about commemorating Yom HaZikaron or celebrating Yom Ha'atzmaut to the chair of Brit Tzedek's Rabbinic Cabinet at rabbifriedman@btvshalom.org.

*Rabbi Joshua Levine-Grater, spiritual leader of the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, serves on the national board of Brit Tzedek and is co-chair of the Los Angeles chapter. He also serves on the advisory board of Just Vision which just released the highly acclaimed film, Encounter Point. Go to www.justvision.org for more information.

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