Israel’s 60th Birthday

Israel: Ethnic Cleansing Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow by Dave
April 21, 2008, 2:41 am
Filed under: Israel's 60th Anniversary | Tags: , , , ,

Its a shame if the memory of the founding of Israel is dying out. Personally I don’t think that it is – just their version of the narrative – the problem for the Zionists is that the memory of the Nakba is growing stronger. The justification for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine is growing weaker – after all in the West in the 1940’s colonialism was perfectly acceptable. Now we understand its a form of racism, theft and oppression thats just plain wrong. Suffering in the Holocaust and claiming a biblical right to the land (which is also challenged) are no longer justifications to oppress another people.

Sharon Marcus experienced the meaning of Passover as a student in Israel in the spring of 1991, not long after Scud missiles fired from Iraq stopped falling on the tiny nation.

The terror of the first Gulf War could not diminish the excitement as the holiday approached, recalled the associate rabbi at Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights. Israelis at bus stops or in stores would ask her if she had a place to celebrate and invite her to Seder dinners at their homes.

Marcus attended a Seder with a Moroccan family where the leisurely ritual celebrating the passage from bondage in Egypt to the creation of a free Jewish people went late into the night. Family members reminisced how as children in Morocco “people would throw stones at them.”

To hear such stories on Passover in an independent Jewish state gave Marcus “the true feeling of freedom.”

As American Jews gather in their homes tonight for the beginning of the eight-day festival, the upcoming 60th anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel is not far from many minds.

Jewish leaders worry that as the generation that remembers the founding of Israel in May 1948 is dying out, the meaning of the event may be fading into memory and may even be lost on younger generations.

The creation of a Jewish homeland that was “miraculous” to their grandparents is seen by many younger people as “a political decision,” Marcus said.

The American Jewish community responded to similar concerns about keeping alive the memory of the Holocaust by building museums, creating special education programs that encourage survivors to share their stories and giving greater attention to archiving their experiences in film and print while they are still alive.

So, too, are some taking on the task of keeping the creation of Israel fresh in the minds of new generations. In Northeast Ohio this spring, that includes reflecting on the anniversary in congregational Seders and a dramatic exhibit – “Israel: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” – that opened last week at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood.

The exhibit, which runs through June 29, showcases pictures of immigrants that capture both the sacrifice involved in building the nation and the pride that sustained settlers in the difficult early years. One striking photo shows a Holocaust survivor who lost his wife and five children working in a village in the Negev.

“The immigrants are the motley remains of a people who 2,000 years ago left these shores to scatter to the far corners of the Earth and are now coming back, most of them to live and some of them to die in the Holy Land,” photographer Robert Capa said in a published reflection on his work.

Rabbi Steven Denker of Temple Emanu El in University Heights said a strong Israel still leads to decreasing anti-Semitism everywhere.

One of his jobs, he said, is to teach the next generation that “Israel is not our last line of defense. It’s our first line of defense.”

Area rabbis said Passover offers an opportunity to reflect on what Israel means to them. The connection runs throughout the Passover celebration, from personal, contemporary reflections on freedom to the final prayer, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

“We are looking forward to freedom now and in the future,” said Rabbi Emeritus Michael Hecht of B’nai Jeshurun-Temple on the Heights in Pepper Pike. “You don’t take freedom for granted.”

For middle-age Jews and older, who can remember the United Nations vote recognizing Israel or the 1967 war when the Western Wall became part of Israel, the nation is central to their identity and to their shared past.

But many younger Jews, particularly those who have never visited Israel, do not feel the same connection. Part of that is their age, and it shows the need to develop programs to help them understand the meaning of having a Jewish homeland in a post-Holocaust world, area Jewish leaders said.

There also is a sense, some rabbis said, that Israel is looked upon more as a political entity by younger Jews. And there is a disconnect between the mythic way some are taught to view Israel and the reality that any democratic nation should be subject to self-criticism.

“We have not provided a lot of balance of what it means to be loving and critical of Israel,” said Rabbi Edward Sukol, founder of The Shul, Cleveland’s Synagogue Without Walls.

So the challenge of Passover, some rabbis said, is to be inspired by experiences such as the flight to freedom from Egypt and the creation of a Jewish homeland, and to continue to work toward a more just society.

That includes working toward a day when everyone – from the suffering people of Darfur to the Israelis and the Palestinians – can realize their hopes and dreams for freedom, peace and justice, they said.

“We are in a process leading to the ultimate redemption of the world,” Denker said. “For many of us, the re-establishment of an independent Jewish state is a way-point in the process.”


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