20 April 2012

Rising from the ashes...

It is both significant and poignant that the week before Independence Day celebrations, the nation of Israel stops to remember the systematic murder of 6 million Jews in Nazi concentration camps. The haunting wail of a wartime siren sounds throughout Israel and the nation stands still for 2 minutes silence. The memorial, at this time in the calendar, serves as a reminder that this nation has risen out of death and suffering. A week later, Israel's Independence Day takes on a new significance - despite the horrific attempt to annihilate this people group, they have survived and with God's help, have prospered - A new hope and dream, rising from out of the ashes.

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to allow the establishment of a national homeland for the Jewish people. The news was received with spontaneous dancing in the streets as young people, hopeful for a better future, grasped the hands of strangers and danced the Hora (a Jewish circular, folk dance). Below is part of a letter written by an American student, living in Jerusalem, who witnessed first-hand the outpouring of joy:

(Nov. 29, 1947) “I walked in a semi-daze through the crowds of happy faces, past the British tanks and jeeps piled high with pyramids of flag-waving, cheering children, past the crying, kissing, tumultuous crowds, all shouting ‘mazal tov’, and came back to the quiet of my room…to try and share with you this never-to-be-forgotten night...

It started at about 11 p.m. when there was a knock on the door, "We're getting through to America. Come on down. The voting's tonight." Ten pajama-clad bodies crowded into a room with space enough for five and sat tensely round the battered radio for what seemed like hours while vain attempts were made to get clear reception from Lake Success. We got through just as the announcement of the majority vote was made: thirty-three in favor, thirteen against and ten abstentions.

Ecstatic, we hugged and kissed each other frantically...Then we made a snake line to the nearest houses, banging on the shutters and doors, shouting the news as we went....The streets were already full, ring upon ring of dancing groups, circling in a frenzied Hora...

People poured out of their homes in a continuous ever - thickening stream. In the center of town crowds of happy people, hugging each other, dancing Horas and jigs...All night streams of joyful crowds assembled in the courtyard mulling in and out...to pay homage, to give vent to exultant incredulous feelings that welled up from deep inside."  (Letters from Jerusalem by Zipporah Porath)

The following year on 14th May 1948, as the British Mandate ended, David Ben Gurion made the famous announcement declaring the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel (land of Israel) to be known as the State of Israel.

The ceremony to declare independence was held in the Tel Aviv Museum (known today as Independence Hall) An invitation was sent out by messenger on the morning of 14th May telling recipients to arrive at 15:30 and to keep the event a secret. The event started at 16:00 and was broadcasted live as the first transmission of the new radio station Kol Yisrael.

At 16:00, Ben-Gurion opened the ceremony by banging his gavel on the table, prompting a spontaneous rendition of Hatikvah, soon to be Israel's national anthem, from the 250 guests. On the wall behind the podium hung a picture of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, and two flags, later to become the official flag of Israel.

After telling the audience "I shall now read to you the scroll of the Establishment of the State, which has passed its first reading by the National Council", Ben-Gurion proceeded to read out the declaration, ending with the words "Let us accept the Foundation Scroll of the Jewish State by rising" and calling on Rabbi Fishman to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion."

A new day had dawned. A people who had been exiled for 2,000 years had returned. A nation was born in a day - a nation rising from the ashes.

'"I will build you up again,
and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels and
go out to dance with the joyful" ...
He who scattered Israel will gather them and
will watch over his flock like a shepherd.'
Jeremiah 31:4-10