This week is another historic week in the history of the Jewish people. It is such a joyous time as we are about to celebrate 70 years of Medinat Yisrael.
Personally, I am incredibly excited as I am going to be part of the World Mizrachi mission to Israel for Yom Ha Atzmaut and will be standing next Friday in Independence Hall at 4pm at the exact time and place 70 years ago when the dreams of a nation came true. I feel blessed that I will be at such a place to then celebrate Shabbat in Tel Aviv with Mizrachi members from across the globe.
Yesterday I was involved in a very different ceremony. We held Yom Ha Shoah ceremonies in JFS for 500 students during the day and in Cockfosters and Southgate, together with Barnet Synagogue, in the evening. Both were inspiring and demonstrated our mission of imbuing the community with a powerful Religious Zionist identity.
There is a course a beautiful link between the two as we highlighted yesterday.
There is a BBC recording of the liberation of Bergen Belsen in 1945, which I heard for the first time several years ago. The BBC reporter explains that the survivors: ‘Held an eve of the Sabbath service in the open air in the midst of the camp. It was the first Jewish service that many of the Jewish men and women had taken part in for six years…these people knew they were being recorded, they wanted the world to hear their voice, they made a tremendous effort which quite exhausted them, listen’
You are waiting for Lecha Dodi or maybe another part of Kabbalat Shabbat but no, what do you hear, you hear the survivors singing the Hatikvah.
However, it is not the version that we sing today. It is 1945, we have still not returned. They sung the version written by Naftali Hertz Imber in 1878. It was adopted as the anthem of the Zionist movement at the first Zionist Congress in 1897. Forty-eight years later it was being sung by survivors demonstrating the unwavering belief of our eternal nation to never give up hope of returning to our ancestral homeland.
That day, from the depths of hell on earth they broadcast to the world the hopes and dreams of our nation for the past 2000 years.
Od lo avdah tikvateinu Our hope is not yet lost,
Hatikvah hannoshanah The ancient hope,
Lashuv le’eretz avoteinu To return to the land of our fathers,
La‘ir bah david k’hanah. The city where David encamped
At the end of the Hatikvah at Belsen, the Jewish Chaplain Rev Hardman ztl cries out ‘ Am Yisrael Chai – the Jewish people still liveth’. It is moving beyond words.
And then, miraculously, just three years later, for the third time in our long history, David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of the third Commonwealth of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.
For thousands of years not just the last 70, Israel has represented much more than a piece of territory: Israel is home. It is a focus for the Jewish heart, a haven for the Jewish people and a sanctuary for the Jewish soul.
This week on Yom Ha’Atzmaut we will give thanks to God as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of that historic day when Israel once again became the nation state of the Jewish people. Over those last seven decades, Israel has experienced some incredibly demanding and testing times but it continues to be a beacon of light in an ever-darkening world. So please celebrate this week by celebrating the wonder that is Medinat Yisrael. Join us either in Kinloss on Wednesday night or in Tel Aviv as we give thanks to Hashem for bringing us back home.
Also, please make sure you participate in celebrating 70 years of Israel with a Weekend of Inspiration of Torah from Israel, . As well as memorable concerts across the country reminding us of the long journey from Avraham Avinu 3500 years ago to David Ben Gurion and beyond and finally our HaMizrachi 20 page publication that should be being distributed to all communities for this momentous occasion.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Atzmaut Sameach,
Rabbi Andrew Shaw