Yom Ha’Atzmaut 5780

5 Iyar, 5780
April 29, 2020

It certainly does not go unnoticed that this year we celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s 72nd birthday with the majority of the world, including those in Israel, under less than independent living conditions as a result of various stay at home, shelter in place and quarantine orders (I saw so many videos posted online of people in their own homes listening to the siren and moment of silence for Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day). This got me thinking about the Hebrew word atzmaut, independence, and several important lessons we can learn from the State.

  • First, the Hebrew root etzem (ayin, tzade, mem) and the related word eetzum, means strength (as in force/power). Israel asserted great strength under the leadership of its first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, as it successfully repelled the forces of many Arab nations who attacked her shortly after declaring independence in 1948. Yom Ha’Atzmaut is a celebration of Israel’s history including the courage to develop a democracy in the shadow of the Shoah and the strength shown by its citizens who persevere amidst great hardships each and each day.
  • Second, atzmaut is related to the word atzmeoot, meaning character or personality (as in selfhood).
    • At Krieger Schechter, we have developed our own character and personality as everyone pulled together to transition to digital learning. Our faculty are certainly the anchor for this as they rapidly learned new platforms and modalities for teaching. Yet, we couldn’t do it without our IT company Intellicomp, without the tremendous coordination of our administration and especially without parents who literally overnight became partners, particularly in the lower school, in a new home/school paradigm that ensures our education can continue.
    • In this moment of frayed nerves and heightened anxiety, part of the character and personality of our school is caring. Just look at this past Monday as JVC’s Bunches of Lunches program collected well over 900 lunches at our location (shout out Ashley Pressman and the JVC team and Joe Uddeme and Jodi Wahlberg for coordinating)! .
    • We have also exhibited generosity of spirit. This past week, dozens of students, some joined by their parents, along with most faculty and staff, participated in beautiful and moving virtual shiva calls for our teachers Moreh Elie and Morah Grobani who were both mourning the loss of loved ones.

These examples and so many more like them demonstrate so poignantly how deeply ingrained these Jewish values have become in the lives of our students and families.

  • Here, there is also an element of the intangible. We must all do our part to assume the best of others and to be humble about what we do not know.

    If a person does not respond to an email, it may be because they are caring for a loved one with Covid-19, or they themselves were stricken, unbeknownst to us. Covid has impacted everyone in far reaching ways and it is our obligation to be patient and emotionally generous with all the members of our community; parents, students, board members, staff and most importantly our faculty. Our community has become and will continue to be a source of nourishment and meaning though this time because these values will continue to guide our actions, our dispositions and our educational choices.
  • Third, Atzmaut is also related to another Hebrew word, b’atzmo, by oneself. Sometimes the term B’atzmo is used to refer to one who leaves the crowd, someone who chooses to go it alone. And this year, isolation has been imposed upon us and we are all adjusting, some days more easily than others. As we approach the 5th of Iyar, we can’t rely on the big community celebrations, the dancing we always have at morning drop off. There is no Salute to Israel parade up 5th Avenue in NYC next month. We are forced to celebrate alone.

    Therefore, we need to find our own ways to mark the occasion. Aside from programs online, we can look to opportunities for our family such as wearing blue and white, ordering falafel and shawarma (if you plan to order from Yesh, place yours early as I am certain they will be swamped), giving tzedakah to your favorite Israel charity and connecting with friends and relatives in Eretz Yisrael (consider reaching out to our Shinshinim who want to hear from you).

    This global pandemic has shown us more than ever that we can’t go it alone. We need every citizen to be out there -we need our Government at the local, state and federal levels working together. We need our organizations mobilized to address the challenges facing society. We need our local agencies focused on the needs of our people right here at home. Our process of growth and maturity, of learning from this horrible Covid-19 pandemic is in its infancy much like the State of Israel felt when declaring her independence in 1948. May the awesome achievements of the Founders of the State, the resilience of its people, and the values it espoused inspire each of us today as we continue to find ways to grow in strength individually and as a community to meet the challenges of our own day.

    May we all carry the message of atzmaut, independence with us through life and particularly now. May we all join together–face to face–in joyous celebration next year -in Yerushalayim or here in Baltimore.

Yom Huledet Sameach Medinat Yisrael!