Laurel already wrote a great post this week about how hard it is to make Yom Ha’atzmaut, (Israel’s Independence Day) meaningful. It’s a tall order, especially these days, when, frankly, I have lots of ideological problems with Israeli politics. But I’ve come up with a few things you can do to focus your day on Israel and on freedom:
1. Say Hallel: Hallel is composed of psalms 113-118, which you can find online in both Hebrew and English here. The chapters are full of gratitude and faith, joy and salvation from enemies. Experiencing Hallel in a synagogue is ideal because it tends to be a raucous and unruly affair that’s especially fun for kids, but if you just want to say them at home, it’s cool. Hallel is one of those awesome prayers that doesn’t require a minyan, so saying it on your own is totally fine. And I think saying Hallel for a newer/more recent event than Hanukkah just reaffirms that we still think God is hanging around and acting on our behalf. It’s like saying, “Hey, these psalm things really work!”
2. Recap the Haggadah: I don’t know why no one has made a Yom Ha’atzmaut seder yet. It seems to me like a totally obvious thing to do. We were slaves, we were oppressed, and now we’re free, and we get to be in charge of ourselves. It’s the same story. And instead of matzah eat pita, and instead of charoset eat hummus. This idea is so good I have to go write up something real for next year, but in the meantime, retell the story of the exodus, and of the obstacles the Jews had to face amongst themselves in the desert. Remember that getting out of slavery doesn’t automatically mean we’re home free. We still have lots of work to do.
3. Give a couple bucks to the Israeli economy: Head to the grocery store and look out for products that were made/grown in Israel. I’m a big fan of Wissotzky teas, but there’s plenty of variety to choose from. Supporting the economy means supporting Israel’s democracy. It’s giving to other Jews, which is pretty Jewish.
4. Listen to some rockin’ Israeli tunes: A big part of most Jewish holidays are the songs we sing for them. Yom Ha’atzmaut doesn’t quite have a modern liturgy, but I like to celebrate with the music of Shlomo Artzi, who’s known as the father of modern Israel songwriting, and who has been around the Israeli music scene since the sixties. He’s patriotic, but never in an idiotic way. I’m also a huge fan of Gaya, who sing that insanely catchy song Od Yavo, and it’s cousin, Yachad. You’ve heard them both relentlessly from youth groups in the past five years.
5. Stay involved in Israeli life: Even when it seems like a drag, and when you are so embarrassed by Moshe Katzav and irritated by Ehud Olmert that you can’t imagine ever wanting to hear about the Knesset again, keep reading the papers and blogs and talking to people who’ve just come back from trips to Israel. Whether you like it or not, Israel’s survival and success have a big effect on any and every Jew. Stay informed, have an opinion, and duke it out (verbally) with others. Chag sameach!