My Inner Civil War: Personal Reflections on Israeli Memorial and Independence Day

My Inner Civil War: Personal Reflections on Israeli Memorial and Independence Day

I am a woman of many hyphens.

-Every Shabbat I pray with the Belzer Chassidim

BUT, on the other hand…

-My school-age kids attend a gung-ho Zionist Religious school and youth group.

BUT, on the other hand…

-My pre-school age kids attend an anti-Zionist, Yiddish-accented Litvish Charedi kindergarten and cheider

BUT, on the other hand…

-My husband is a program director and teacher at a Zionist Religious yeshiva.

BUT, on the other hand…

-He also teaches at a program for Lubavitch baalei teshuva.

And for a long time, I secretly thought that my religious identity contains so many hyphens because I am extremely confused. I thought that one day I would outgrow my multi-hyphenated reality, and delete all of them in favor of one simple, clear hashkafa. On that long-awaited day I would finally be able to crisply and definitively declare: “I am a Belzer!” or “I am a student of Harav Kook!” or “I am a Chabadnikit!” or “I have decided that I am mainstream Chard”al, Charedi National Religious.”

But over the past year or two, instead of regretting my hashkafic-hyphenated confusion, I find myself actually feeling quite lucky to be able to pick and choose my favorite aspects of my favorite religious groups in order to sew together my own glorious, rainbow, hashkafa that fits me to a T, because I made it myself– by hand.

But there are 2 days out of 365 when my beloved hyphens come to torment me.

On Yom Haatsmaut and Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Indepence and Memorial Day, the annual hateful accusations that the various sectors of Israeli society shoot back at forth at one another over the course of these two days also ricochet, as well, within my own mind and heart.

This year, though, in the midst of Yom Haatsmaut I suddenly remembered a story that managed to negotiate a short ceasefire in my own annual, internal, hyphenated Civil War.

I remembered how 19 years ago, I arrived in Israel for the first time at the age of 20. I arrived here as a secular Jew in a sleeveless dress and flip-flops, and left 9 months later in a floor-length skirt and with a brand-new Chumash with Rashi in my suitcase.

One of the toughest aspects of those life-changing 9 months had been coping with the vigorous disapproval of the Feinsteins,* close family friends who lived in Haifa and had been very upset about my decision to attend a yeshiva. When I first arrived in Israel, the Feinsteins had been incredibly hospitable towards me, hosting me for weekends, taking me to the movies and the mall, driving me all over to show me Israeli life from the inside. They really took me, their long-lost American cousin, under their wing.

So when I started studying at Neve, the Feinsteins were beside themselves with worry.

“We are so worried,” Tami Feinstein told me over a plate of chicken in cream sauce, “because you are so young and so naive! They are going to brainwash you there! Before long,” she warned me with a raised finger and a threatening look, “they will tell you that you can no longer attend movies with us on Shabbat…or even go driving with us!”

And Tami was right, of course. Before long I did become the dreaded Orthodox Jew Tami had so sternly warned me I could become if I didn’t leave the yeshiva and move in with her family immediately.

At the end of those nine months, I returned to America, and I drove up the coast to attend my final semester at Bowdoin College in Maine. I was the only observant Jew on campus, or within a 20 mile radius for that matter. I was keeping kosher and Shabbat and not shaking men’s hands—the works.

And I expected my friends and acquaintances to reprimand me for my new lifestyle, like the Feinsteins and their friends in Haifa all had. But those anticipated showdowns never materialized.

I was an Orthodox Jew at Bowdoin College.

And nobody, NOBODY could have cared less.

The one negative reaction I got was from my orchestra conductor who kicked me out of the orchestra because I was unwilling to play French horn in the final Friday-night dress rehearsal. He thought I was silly and brainwashed…

But on that whole campus, there was not one iota of anger at me. None.

And I realized then, and I reminded myself yesterday, that the reason my classmates and professors didn’t care that I had become religious was because, deep down, they didn’t really care about ME.

I once heard a story about a young boy who runs across a street without looking, and he almost gets hit by a car. And a man chases the boy for a block, and then for two blocks, and then for five blocks until he finally catches the boy and yells at him in fury, “Never, ever do that again!” Who was that man chasing the boy? The father, of course. Because if he didn’t love the boy that much, he wouldn’t have gotten angry that much.

And that’s what I remembered yesterday.

I remembered that often anger is a symptom, strangely, of how connected we feel with another person.

Just like us Jews fighting tooth and nail with our brothers and sisters here in Israel.

*Not her real name
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com user James Emery

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8 comments

  1. Chana, I also have such a inner civil war on Yom Haatzmaut.. I love that I can live in the Land of Israel and yet I disapprove of many of the actions of the founders of the state. I asked a Rav what to make of the day and was told that I can be grateful that I am able to live in Eretz Yisrael but not to give credit to the founders of the state but to Hash-m. I am very grateful to Hash-m that HE has made this country a place where I can live a Torah life in the land of the Torah.

  2. I have to disagree with Ita and whoever thinks they shouldn’t thank the founders of Israel. Yes, of course we must give thanks to Hashem- but not acknowledging that people- maybe not your relatives, but certainly mine and many others fought and gave their lives so that you can live here safely, is kafui tov. For having Israel, one is obligated to say “Thank you” (tehillim 107). See zechariya 4 and bavli masechet sota 48: Who is a “katan emunah”? Someone who looks in his basket, sees bread, and asks, “what will be tomorrow?” You can be the katan emunah or acknowledge and see what is placed before you- a State (something we haven’t had for 2000 years and only got 63 years ago), a place where we can live happily, Jewishly, and can protect ourselves. Why not be a gadol emunah and give thanks where it is due?

    • Avital, while they did do a lot for the beginning of the State (and deserve credit for putting their lives on the line)but they also were hostile to Torah so it’s kind of a difficult call to feel such good feelings about that part. They were the shlichim on behalf of Hash-m.

  3. yehudit

    Ah, CJW, you touch our hearts again. As for the two comments above, there is a happy medium: I thank Hashem for giving me the honor to live here, and for giving us the shining example of all those kiddushei Hashem who made it possible by giving their lives, and choosing to do so of their own free will, as His shlichim.

    I believe that the secular beginnings of the State are a challenge in disguise from Hashem for all of us to develop our Ahavas Yisrael, particulary since Yom Haatzmaut is during the Omer, of all times!

    • I totally agree with Yehudit. I have no hatred for the founders..I am grateful to live here and that they were the messengers for it.

  4. JewishMom

    I read this today on Life in Israel and loved it…

    The Belzer Rebbe On Yom Ha’Atzmaut
    I recently heard the following story that was quoted from a book written in 1962. The story has to do with Rav Aharon Rokeach, the former Belzer Rebbe, and his attitude to Yom Ha’Atzmaut.

    The story goes that Rav Rokeach, the Belzer Rebbe at the time, was approached by someone who asked him that on Yom Ha’Atzmaut some Jews dance joyously, while in Mea Shearim there are Jews who dress in sackcloth and act in mourning, and what is the Rebbe’s attitude to this?

    The Rebbe’s response, the story goes, was “when Jews are happy, I am happy”.

  5. I think many people feel this inner tension. I am with the Belzer Rebbe on this one. There is so much to be grateful for and Jewish love and unity makes Hashem happy and only causes good things to happen. Here are some more of my reflections on this suject.
    http://jewish-home-education.blogspot.com/2011/05/yom-hazikaron-and-yom-haatzmaut.html

  6. So, my daughter came home the day before yom haatzmaut and said that tomorrow theres no gan because the ganenet said that the Hilonim (secular Jews) think its a holiday….so I’m silent on the way home thinking of what to respond with the same civil war happenening inside my soul- the haredi baal tshuva from america that is very zionistic because my uncles left their fathers yeshiva and were on ships from tripoli to israel at the age of 14 and 16 going to join the army and fight for the state of Israel -it was only 5 years ago that i saw movies and heared lectures about how the movement at the time shaved off little boys payos-(sideburns that are not meant to be cut) and put religion aside making the land a priority- and even though I realize that thats why I am a baal tshuva and not frum from birth like my grandparents were- i still have a very hard time not honoring the sirens-taking the opportunity to teach my kids that these soldiers were our family and they deserve the respect of one minute of prayer and silence- and enjoying the various flags that are waving everywhere – the truth is, this is the best day to visit family that is far that isnt observant since we can drive etc. – but after a semi tinge of zionistic blood rising I said- “thats interesting- so if THEY think its a Hag -than why do WE have a day off?” she just shrugged her sholdiers and asked if we could go somewhere on our chofesh- day off- so we did- and we saw gorgeous flags and saw some family- ate hotdogs, played outside my aunts moshav and it was no big deal.

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