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  • Ari Sacher

Independence Day 2024

Updated: May 14

Independence Day 2024: On May 13, 2024, Israel celebrated Memorial Day. On May 14, 2024, Israel celebrates Independence Day. The scheduling of the two holidays on two successive days was done purposely, demonstrating that Israel’s independence is inextricably bound with the sacrifices made by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers. (Independence Day commemorates a historical event: the declaration of independence signed in Tel Aviv on the 5th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, which that year fell on May 14. Independence Day is always observed on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday in order to prevent desecration of the Shabbat. This year, Independence Day is observed on the 6th day of Iyar, and Memorial Day is observed one day earlier on the 5th day of Iyar).

Memorial Day 2024 was seminally different than in previous years. Since last Memorial Day, 766 soldiers and 834 civilians have been killed. A large majority of them have been killed since the massacre of October 7, 2023. More Jews were killed in that massacre than in any one day since the Holocaust.

The war in Gaza is still raging more than seven months later – four soldiers were killed over the weekend – and a bloody offensive into Rafah, the Hamas’ last stand, is taking place as I write these words. It is an Israeli custom to visit cemeteries on Memorial Day to show respect to the fallen, but this year, the IDF asked Israelis to give precedence to those who have lost loved ones, especially over the past year. 

Memorial Day 2024 was different than ever before, and Independence Day 2024 will be completely different than any other Independence Day in Israeli history. 

  • The national ceremony on Independence Eve was held this year without an audience due to security considerations. 

  • The U.S. has threatened to withhold shipment of precision guided munitions if Israel goes into Rafah. 

  • Hamas has begun regrouping in areas from which the IDF have retreated, and rocket fire has returned to metropolitan areas as far away as Beer Sheba and Ashqelon.

  • 132 hostages still remain in Gaza with no horizon for their release. Hamas will not divulge how many of these hostages it has control over and how many are even alive. 

  • Demonstrations calling for elections and an immediate hostage deal, even at the expense of not destroying Hamas, are increasing.

  • More than 100,000 people remain evacuated from their homes, and

  • War in the north looks increasingly unavoidable. 

Should we celebrate Independence Day at all this year? This is the question that was asked by Rotem Izak, a popular web personality, in an Op-Ed last week in “Yediot Achronot,” Israel’s most popular newspaper. (See this link for the Op-Ed in Hebrew). In the subtext, Izak asserts, “This time we need the courage not to celebrate Independence Day.”

She writes, “On this Independence Day, there is really no reason to celebrate. A ceremony without an audience, entire settlements without residents, hundreds of newly bereaved families next to families whose loved ones are dying in captivity. Celebration is not always strength… Sometimes softness is strength. The ability to give in, or at least to choose differently, is power. Anyone who refused to celebrate a birthday this year will testify to this. Anyone who promised himself and those around him that next year they would celebrate twice as hard because who celebrates when he is sad? Who has the power to pretend? Well, for those who have been pretending the past six months, we have the upper hand: Should we believe that the 'total victory' that was promised is coming soon, at a time when so many citizens have lost everything? That the 'People of Israel live (Am Yisrael Chai)' while the best of their sons die in dark tunnels? While the best of their daughters pay the unbearable prices that are reserved for women in wars? That whoever does not want to celebrate is a sourpuss and should make an extra effort [to be happy]? If there is no security and if our hostages have not returned, will you eat your birthday cake?”

Izak raises some difficult questions, and so I waited for the weekend edition of “Makor Rishon” – a newspaper that appeals to the religiously orthodox – to see what it would have to say about the issue. The answer: absolutely nothing. There was not a single Op-Ed that even accidentally mentioned the issue. “Makor Rishon” chose to place a very different Op-Ed on its front page. Written by Naama Lupo, a person I had never heard of before, the Op-Ed is called “Between the Generation of 1948 and the Generation of 2024.” Here is what Lupo had to say: 

“There is a span of three generations between 1948 and 2024: the Generation of the Founders, the Generation of the Builders, and the Generation of Rebirth. Everyone reading this belongs to one of those three generations. Every one of you, of us, has accumulated here, individually and collectively, endless momentous events and powerful memories. Joy and exaltation, sadness and crisis. And too many Memorial Days. The generation that founded the state is tied in our memory to the moment of declaring independence. Immediately after that came the War of Independence, the nation’s institutions were created, and the refugee camps that had been built for immigrants became towns.

The Generation of the Builders is tied in our memory to dozens of moments of victory: cultural flowering, wars, political upheavals, and economic successes. This was also the generation that solidified our sovereignty. We’d never met the Generation of Rebirth until recently. This is the young generation that some of us looked at with ridicule or worry, and we wondered—what does that generation have in common with us? What does it have to do with Israel? In recent months, that generation has reminded us that, as is the case in any chain, it is also tied to us. But no less than that, it also proved that we are dependent on it.

After the death and the attacks, this is the generation that revived Israel’s spirit and reminded us what real power is. In the midst of the darkness that followed the horrors, this generation shined light. It left behind families, children and careers, work and peaceful lives, and went out to defend our home in order to win. This is the generation that lost friends, evacuated wounded, paid shiva calls—and pressed on. This generation was filled with feelings of guilt, believing it could have done more. It sounded the shofar, reminding every neighborhood along the Gaza strip, 'My brother, I’m here at your side.' This is the generation that transcended the divisions in the people and could tell the difference between what really mattered and what didn’t, between holy and profane. This is the generation that is now promising that we are here and that we are not going anywhere.

This is not an optimistic column. The divisions in the people are still here. The hostages are still living in hell on earth, and even victory on the battlefield, at least for the moment, is not certain. We’re going to be caring for the wounded for as long as the eye can see, but at least we will know that there arose here a generation in which we can trust. That on the day that we will no longer be alive, there will be those who will guide Israel with confidence. 

Between 1948 and 2024 span three generations. On this year’s Memorial Day and Independence Day, it’s the Generation of Rebirth that is illuminating the path for us. That generation is Israel. And we, all of Israel, are casting our eyes on it."

The reason that “Makor Rishon” did not consider not celebrating Independence Day this year is because it sees Israel differently than the editors at “Yediot Achronot.” It sees Israel as the Generation of Rebirth while Yediot still sees it as the Generation of the Builders. Israel is not just another country. Israeli sovereignty cannot be measured by the results on the battlefield. After two thousand years of exile, Israeli sovereignty is nothing less than a modern-day miracle. To look at today without looking at the context of the past two thousand years and the next two thousand years can lead to despair. The ingathering of the exiles from the four corners of the earth, the greening of the desert, the startup nation – these are not the end goals. They are markers – signposts on the way to something much bigger than ourselves. Each day we take another step down that path. 

My son, Elyasaf, put it very succinctly. The extent of the massacre of October 7 was mind-boggling in two ways: First, how did thousands of Hamas terrorists breach an “impenetrable” wall? Second, why did it take so long – in some cases, more than a day – for the IDF to send troops to the embattled towns and kibbutzim on the Gazan border? Why didn’t the IAF send attack helicopters to shoot at the mob as they stormed in?  In short: Where was the IDF? My son reminded me that in World War 2, in the fires of Auschwitz and in the battle for the Warsaw Ghetto, nobody was able to ask, “Where was the IDF?”

To live in a world in which the Jewish People have the ability to defend themselves and their country and to choose their own future is a cause for great celebration. 

Happy Independence Day!

Ari Sacher

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