Yesterday was Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s 73rd Independence Day. Following immediately after Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror, the country moves directly from sadness to celebration and elation.
Celebrating virtually for the second year in a row reminded me how hard it is to be apart and unable to travel to Israel, especially on these days. This is the first time I have gone a full year without visiting Israel since I lived there 20 years ago. I cannot wait to get on a plane as soon as we can!
I’ve been thinking a lot this year about Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva (“The Hope”). When the Jewish People finally return to their homeland after 2,000 years and establish a sovereign state, you would expect the national anthem to celebrate a sense of arrival, restoration, even redemption: We have made it, we are a nation among nations, in control of our own destiny and security for the first time in millennia.
Instead, Hatikva, a poem written by a late 19th century Polish poet Naftali Herz Imber, speaks about the “yearning of the Jewish soul,” the “eye gazing toward the east,” and the “2,000-year-old hope that is not lost.” Yearning, gazing, hoping: Hatikva is about longing for, dreaming of, and building a better future. That is what Zion — the Land of Israel and the modern State of Israel — represent.
The phrase “2,000-year-old hope” is such a beautiful paradox. “Hope” is a word that is future-oriented, forward-looking, gazing toward tomorrow. “Two thousand-year-old” is a descriptor that looks backward, calling us toward our history, our roots. One is about where we are going, the other is about where we come from. This phrase looks back and forward at the same time.
I am reminded of a lecture about this period of time on the Jewish calendar between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot by the great leader of 20th century Modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, right here in Boston:
Judaism requires of the Jew that he experience time in its two dimensions simultaneously... (it is) experiential memory that reaches out for the future... (on one hand) history is reexperiencing, reliving the events that occurred a long time ago... On the other hand, Judaism requires us to pre-experience the future, the as yet non-real that will become real at some point in time... To exist as a Jew means to be at the juncture of past and future... Our mission is to engage in retrospection and anticipation, in recollection and expectation.
This is a message about what it means to be Jewish and what it means to be human, and it feels particularly poignant this year as we emerge back into the world and return to (albeit different) “normal life” after a year of COVID-19. We never fully arrive. We just begin again, continue the journey, keep longing, striving, and dreaming, with a combination of hard work and hope. That is what Hatkiva represents.
Happy Birthday Israel and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Marc Baker
About the Author
CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker is an educator, writer, and leadership mentor who is devoting his life to Jewish learning and building Jewish communities.