2010 Independence Day in Exile
Chananya Weissman
April 23, 2010, The Jewish Star

I'm fond of saying that it will be easier for me celebrate Yom Ha'atzma'ut when Israel becomes an independent country.

There is no era since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash in which I would rather live than this one. While I definitely miss the true leadership and Gadlus of former times that is absent — yes, absent — in this generation, I don't pine for the shtetl, and I don't think I would have been able to adapt to living through pogroms, famines, plagues, and extreme persecution, which characterized most of the last 2000+ years of our history. Nope, I definitely wouldn't trade places.

That said, I have a very difficult time getting emotionally wrapped up in Yom Ha'atzma'ut. I abhor the Israeli government, but I am extremely grateful to live in Israel and equally abhor the fact that supposedly religious Jews can view living here as anything other than an incredible miracle and blessing. I see no dichotomy in celebrating the existence and achievements of this country while yearning for more authentic Jewish leadership. So it isn't anti-Zionism or ingratitude that makes it hard for me to get "into" Yom Ha'atzma'ut.

It's knowing that we are still very much in exile.

We cannot pray in our holiest place, and are prevented from doing so by fellow Jews, lest Arabs riot and the world condemn us for causing the trouble.

We cannot build homes without negotiating with other countries. Those who renovate their porch without the approval of the anti-Semitic president of a foreign country are liable to have it bulldozed by special forces. Jewish ones.

We drag Jews out of their homes and destroy thousands of lives just so we can prove to the anti-Semites that we are willing to do anything to be liked by them. Conversely, we are not willing to flex much at all so that we can get along better with our fellow Jews.

Churches and mosques receive greater protection here than shuls. If those other religions are offended it's bad news for us. If our religion is offended, well, we can take it.

Our soldiers are neutered and sent on needlessly perilous missions to minimize casualties to the enemy. After all, the world doesn't like when our enemies suffer casualties, so better for our people to take the hit and spare ourselves the condemnation.

Soldiers and citizens who defend themselves from attacks are liable to be harshly prosecuted. The knife has to be just half an inch from their throat before they use force, and even then only minimal force. If it's a full inch away they have to exercise "restraint" and call for help. Or run. It's okay to run.

I can go on, but you get the point. Tisha B'av still resonates with me very well. I'm having a hard time getting the hang of celebrating independence. It requires shutting out far too much.

When the second Beis Hamikdash was dedicated there was quite a celebration. But not everyone celebrated. And the reason why they didn't celebrate wasn't because they were ungrateful, anti-Zionist, or otherwise askew. They simply COULDN'T celebrate, because they knew.

The people who didn't celebrate were the old Jews who remembered the first Beis Hamikdash. That exile, after all, was only 70 years, so there were plenty of people who lived to see both Batei Mikdash. As glamorous as the second structure was, it paled in comparison to what remained lost -- only most people didn't feel it even if they knew it. What was to others a cause for great celebration -- after all, it was far better than being slaves in Bavel -- was to the elders a cheap substitute, and cause for tears. This wasn't redemption...not REAL redemption. And as grateful as they surely were to have something resembling redemption, something that was a major upgrade over the recent past, they couldn't shake the knowledge that the exile was still very real.

That is why I cannot really get into Yom Ha'atzma'ut. I never saw anything better than what we have today, and I can't adequately express how grateful I am not to have experienced anything worse. In a generation that is still less than a century removed from the Holocaust I can't blame anyone for celebrating Yom Ha'atzma'ut with nothing but joy. We really do have a lot to be grateful for.

But if one is truly sensitive to what redemption is supposed to look like, what independence is supposed to look like, and what true Jewish life is supposed to look like, it feels almost as guilty to celebrate this day too much as it would to not care for it at all.

I look forward to the true Yom Ha'atzma'ut: when we can thank Hashem wherever we want, when we can build wherever we want, when we can travel without fear anywhere in our land, and when our enemies know that if they raise a hand to throw a rock at us they will never get a chance to throw it.

Now THAT calls for a barbecue.

Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness (www.endthemadness.org), a volunteer effort to rehabilitate the culture of the shidduch world and www.hotkiddush.com, a free networking site geared for the Orthodox community.