Articles about Yom Ha'atzmaut from the AVI CHAI Bookshelf

by: Bard, Dicker, Porath, Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein

The following four articles have been “Reprinted with permission of the AVI CHAI Bookshelf, where birthright Israel alumni can order free books and periodicals. Site produced by Jewish Family & Life.”

  1. Israel’s Birthday Merits Celebration
  2. A Spiritual Survival Kit For Yom Ha’atzmaut 5762
  3. Eyewitness to Israel’s Birth
  4. The Struggle for the Birth of Israel: To Whom Does Victory Belong?

Israel’s Birthday Merits Celebration
By Dr. Mitchell G. Bard
Israel is turning 54 and, despite the horrible events going on now, it is worth pausing to reflect on the amazing, positive accomplishments of this still young nation.
Let’s start with the incredible story of the ingathering of the exiles. The integration of people from more than 100 countries has been nothing short of astounding. Consider that the Jewish population doubled in just the first three years of statehood. Less than 60 years ago, 500,000 Jews lived in Palestine. Today, the population exceeds six million.
Just think about America’s immigration problems and then contemplate the enormity of Israel’s task, absorbing roughly one million Jews from the former Soviet Union in less than a decade. It would be like the United States assimilating the entire population of France.
Think about Israel as a haven. Since 1948, no Jew has had to worry about having the doors closed to them as they were during World War II. Hundreds of thousands of Jews escaped from Arab persecution in operations Ali Baba and Magic Carpet.
Many of you may be too young to remember the incredible rescues of Operations Moses and Sheba and Solomon in the 1980s and early 1990s, when more than 40,000 Ethiopian Jews were secretly airlifted to Israel. What other nation would have done such a thing? As William Safire said: “For the first time in history, thousands of black people are being brought to a country not in chains but in dignity.”
Those Ethiopians were on the lowest rung of one of the world’s poorest societies and today, less than 20 years later, thousands are productive members of Israel’s high-tech society.
From the earliest days, Israel was the envy of the developing world. Israeli experts spent decades, for example, providing technical assistance in agriculture to Africa and Asia. Israel is also now recognized as one of the world’s leading centers of research and development.
Are you aware that more than 10,000 American companies do business in or with Israel, including Fortune 500 companies like Intel, Microsoft, IBM, McDonald’s and Baxter Healthcare? Why do they do business there? Because they’re Zionists? Of course not. American business has learned that Israel is a great place to make a profit, to tap into a large pool of extraordinary talent and to serve as a gateway to the European market.
Consider also the special alliance with the United States. There’s nothing else like it. Virtually every U.S. government agency has an agreement to cooperate with its counterpart in Israel. At least 22 states have their own agreements to promote state-to-state exchanges in trade, agriculture, education, culture and other areas of mutual interest. Over the last three decades, the strategic alliance between the U.S. and Israel has  evolved into one of the strongest in the world.
Zionism has triumphed. Israel has emerged from the desert, from the ashes of the Holocaust, from the battlefields of six wars and unspeakable terrorist atrocities as a strong, proud, important country. For every two Jews, you may have three synagogues, four political parties and five organizations, but you have only one blessed Jewish State, one Homeland, one Israel. Let us celebrate.
Learn more about Israel’s history from my book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict, which is available from the AVI CHAI Bookshelf. And give some thought to this question, What will Israel look like 50 years from today?
Dr. Mitchell G. Bard is the Executive Director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) and webmaster of the Jewish Virtual Library
A Spiritual Survival Kit For Yom Ha’atzmaut 5762
Review of Exodus, by Leon Uris
By Shira Dicker
Anyone who has been in Israel during the remarkable nine-day period ushered in by Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) and escorted out by the paradoxical twins –Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Independence Day), can readily testify to the spiritual intensity of this season.
Following on the heels of Pesach, which marks the birth of the Jewish people, Israel takes stock of its more recent history by first commemorating the Holocaust, then those who have fallen in its innumerable wars, and finally the re-birth of the independent Jewish State.
For those of us born in the era of a secure and thriving Israeli state, Yom Ha’Atzmaut has been a day of joy and celebration. Whether getting clonked on the head by noisemakers wielded by happy celebrants, pulled into a spontaneous hora at a public party or singing songs of the Zionist pioneers around a bonfire, Yom Ha’Atzmaut has been an affirmation of our nation’s independence, our freedom and our shared future.
Eighteen months ago, our reality began to change. Israel began to endure innumerable assaults to her populace. Global anti-Semitism was aroused. The dangerous conditions in Israel transformed the country from our home away from home into a war zone. The Palestinian propaganda machine revved up its presence on the American college campus. History was distorted, denied, rewritten. Increasingly, Israel was equated with its worst foe – Nazi Germany.
Observing this nightmarish reality, we are stunned, for we never believed Israel would be fighting for her survival in our lifetime.
We suddenly understand that our blissful existence as passive heirs has ended and we are being tapped to take our place in Jewish history.
As we set out along this path on Yom Ha’Atzmaut 5762, I can think of no better reading material than the internationally-bestselling Exodus, by Leon Uris, first published in 1958.
Exodus is an epic novel, taking us deep into the events surrounding the establishment of the State of Israel. If you were snoozing during Jewish History class, rest assured that you can catch up on years of delinquency by spending a week with this astonishingly detailed, meticulously researched work of historical fiction.
Wondered what went on during the era of the British Mandate in Palestine? Suspected complicity between Hitler and certain Arab leaders? Puzzled over how a handful of Jews were able to develop the land and defend themselves against ongoing Arab attacks? Curious how those Palestinian refugee camps came to be? The answers to these questions and scores more are to be found within the pages of Exodus.
To write this book, Uris conducted years of research, traveled over fifty thousand miles and spoke to dozens of people. The result is an encyclopedic work, which spans centuries, probes family sagas and skips across continents always to deposit us back upon the arid, impossibly rocky terrain of the Land of Israel where the Jewish people had come to declare an end to their suffering, wandering and persecution.
While Uris’ strength is in his narrative overview, he builds credible characters and allows much of the drama of this nation-raising to unfold through them.
Beginning with the gripping clandestine mission to sail the Exodus — a boatload of orphaned Jewish child survivors of the Shoah (Hebrew for Holocaust) — to the British Mandate of Palestine from their refugee camp in Cyprus, Uris takes us back to the squalor of the Warsaw Ghetto and the horror of the gas chambers of Bergen-Belsen.  We continue the journey into British military command posts and aboard other, doomed ships of Jewish refugees bound for Palestine. Uris takes us deep into the Jewish military underground and aloft on an aircraft filled with newly-rescued Yemenite Jews, higher and higher up so that we ultimately gain an aerial view of the complex and nuanced struggle of the Jewish people for a homeland.
It is a dizzying, dazzling view. It is filled with yearning; it is drenched with blood. It is branded with the fire of conviction, belonging especially to the young people who worked unceasingly, fought and gave their lives for the dream of a Jewish homeland.
Though I had first read Exodus in my middle teens, the book was nearly unrecognizable to me upon my recent re-reading. Twenty-five years ago, I regarded the novel as ancient history, a disturbing story that belonged to the world of the past. Reading it as a teen, I was less touched than repelled. As an American Jew, a New Yorker, no less, I could hardly relate to this burdensome history. Ghettos, gas chambers, yuck! No anti-Semitic act or sentiment darkened my happy existence, I was free – a new breed of Jew.
It was not that I lacked maturity; it was that the novel lacked a relevant context.
Our context has radically changed. Twenty-five years after my first reading of Leon Uris’ Exodus, and 54 years since Israel’s War of Independence, Israel is once again in a fight for her survival.  Across the street from our apartment on Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan, Palestinian students call Israel a Nazi state. Our beloved State of Israel is imperiled, our Israeli friends and family dodge death at every step. Awakening from our blissful slumber as heirs to the Zionist dream, we see that we have been tapped to enter the ring of Jewish history.
Eyewitness to Israel’s Birth
By Zipporah Porath
When I waved goodbye to my family at Pier 84 in New York, in September 1947, headed for a year of study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I had no way of knowing I would be caught up in Israel’s War of Independence. It turned out to be a year that changed my life, as well as the course of Jewish history.
I had been awarded a scholarship by the Zionist Organization of America. To go or not to go? How could I turn down a year’s free tuition, a hard-to-get visa to British Mandatory Palestine and a chance to find out what being a Jew meant, not at Zionist meetings in New York, but in the reality of Eretz Yisrael?
The reality hit me on arrival at Haifa port as I watched the stevedores unload the ship. They formed a human chain, passing hefty baggage hand to hand and shouting at each other in Hebrew; rowdy, muscle men dressed in grubby khaki shorts – a new kind of Jew for me. Then I met the local students — sabras, kibbutzniks and new immigrants – another breed of Jew. Within days, I felt a real sense of belonging, a firm connection to my people in its long chain of history, which had its roots here.
I was totally unprepared, however, for what I found in Jerusalem: a city bristling with barbed wire and barricades, divided into British, Jewish, Arab and mixed sectors. Trigger-happy “Tommies” were everywhere enforcing curfews and forbidden arms searches. The situation was out of control: the British had passed the problem to the United Nations for a solution.
On November 29, 1947, the UN voted to end the British Mandate and approved a Partition Plan for Palestine, calling for an Arab State and a Jewish State. The fulfillment of our 2,000 year-old dream was within reach. Not just a dream, but a desperately needed haven for survivors of Hitler’s death camps. Jerusalem went wild with joy. History was in the making and I was where it was happening.
The euphoria soon evaporated. All the Arab countries rejected the plan. It became clear that we would have to fight for a Jewish State. Arabs hostilities began in earnest. Within weeks, the campus on Mt. Scopus was inaccessible and classes were suspended. Tension mounted. A series of full-scale explosions in the heart of the city was a grim signal to American students to go home or join the forces helping to defend Jerusalem. A handful of us stayed on believing it was a time for Zionists to stand up and be counted. We counted, just by being here.
I joined the Haganah, Israel’s pre-state underground defense force, in a cloak and dagger induction ceremony, with one hand on a Bible, the other on a pistol. The first aid course I took to become a medic ended the very day terrorists blew up Ben Yehuda Street. Amazingly, I soon found myself not only treating wounded but setting up infirmaries in Haganah outposts. Before long, Jerusalem was under total siege with critical shortages of water, food, fuel and ammunition. The only road link to the rest of the country was under constant attack: convoys were ambushed and their precious cargoes confiscated. We were the target for relentless sniping, shelling, bombing. It was terrifying.
The State of Israel was proclaimed in Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948. Light years away in Jerusalem, with our electricity cut off and batteries gone, we never even heard the broadcast. Only during the cease-fire at the end of June, when I was assigned to accompany the first United Nations convoy of wounded out of the city, did the full impact of the reality hit us: we were actually in the State of Israel. A wondrous, joyous moment. The din was deafening as my patients, mostly amputees, banged their crutches and canes on the ambulance doors and windows.
Today, thanks to letters I wrote to my family during Israel’s War of Independence, I can describe in vivid detail what living through that incredible period had been like. The letters were lovingly cherished and preserved by my parents: I found them in a frayed packet nearly four decades later, after their deaths. The book, “Letters from Jerusalem 1947-1948” captures the thrill and pride I had experienced as an eyewitness to Israel’s birth. I told it as it happened. I was there!! In the final letter I wrote: “I have been part of it and it will forever be part of me. I intend to see this war through and then remain on, whatever happens. This is now my home.”
The passionate sense of commitment I had felt toward the new born state is echoed in “Alex, Building a Life,” letters written by Alex Singer, a young American who made aliya in 1985 and fell serving in the IDF defending Israel. He wrote that joining the army “has given me the opportunity to play a part in making the one Jewish state in the world a place where Jews can live without fear as Jews.”
The Struggle for the Birth of Israel: To Whom Does Victory Belong?
By Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein
In recent years, Israel’s War of Independence has been hijacked by historians and political scientists who have tried to steal from the Jewish State its victory in the 1948 war. Israel’s triumph, it has been argued, was less an Israeli win than an Arab defeat. Decades later, the question remains: To whom does victory belong?
Undeniably, the Arabs suffered dearly for their lack of unity, common goals, military preparedness and coordination. Arab political leaders deluded their armies and societies into believing that the march to Tel Aviv would be swift and painless. And, if the Arabs had not accepted a UN call for a four-week ceasefire in June 1948, thus giving Israel time to resupply and rearm its troops, it is likely that all of Jerusalem, and perhaps other parts of Israel, would have fallen to the Arabs.
Nevertheless, as journalists Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre reveal in their timeless and riveting account of the 1948 war, O Jerusalem!, the victory in 1948 does belong to Israel, won by real-life men and women, their courageous political and military leaders, and Israeli ingenuity and determination.
Among the numerous heroes and heroines of the 1948 war were the teenagers and young adults of the Gadna, the pre-army military training youth organization and the Haganah, Israel’s pre-state army. As passionate, unswerving and disciplined Zionists, they understood that they were risking their lives for the sake of a Jewish state they might never live to see.
When the Arabs of Palestine began ambushing Jewish vehicles on the road to Jerusalem, these young adults escorted military convoys up the Arab-controlled road, often dying brutal deaths in numerous desperate attempts to provide the city’s 100,000 besieged and hungry Jews with food, medicine and arms.
At the start of the 1948 war, the new state’s manpower levels were so dangerously low that young men and women were literally pulled off the docking Holocaust refugee boats and sent to the front lines with little training. One such 17-year-old young man, dispatched to the bloody battle of Latrun, died in a ditch with his last words to his commander, “Oh, we must have disappointed you.”
In fierce street-to-street fighting in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter, Gadna members bought some much-needed time for the Haganah in May 1948 when they repelled the armored cars of the Jordanian Arab Legion with nothing more than hand grenades and youthful physical prowess. Esther Cailingold, a 22-year-old Haganah volunteer from England, died defending the Jewish Quarter. She left behind a note for her parents saying: “…I have tasted hell but it has been worthwhile because I am convinced the end will see a Jewish state and all our longings…”
The 1948 war was also won by Israel’s early political and military leaders. First Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was operating under extraordinarily dire conditions. On the international front, the world–including the United States–was retreating from the UN partition plan and sought a UN trusteeship for Palestine. At home, the Arabs were winning the war for the roads and Jerusalem was completely cut off from the rest of the state; its residents were facing relentless Arab shelling and impending starvation.
Where would Israel be today if David Ben-Gurion had not overcome opposition among his 13-member governing council regarding proclaiming a Jewish state upon British withdrawal on May 14, 1948? Would Jerusalem be the capital of the Jewish state today if Ben-Gurion had not stood firm in his conviction that no Jewish area be abandoned no matter how critical the circumstances?
Additionally, the emerging Jewish state had no money for purchasing weapons. Ben-Gurion dispatched senior Jewish Agency official Golda Meir to persuade American Jewry that they must immediately empty their pockets. Golda’s eloquent and impassioned speeches before American Jewry in January 1948 raised 50 million dollars for the Israeli war effort.
Facing a shortage of soldiers, arms, and general military supplies, battlefield commanders of the Haganah nevertheless maintained unity, morale and sense of purpose. They set a precedent of going out first in battle and using all available means to retrieve the dead and wounded from the battlefield.
Jewish ingenuity also contributed to Israel’s 1948 triumph. Within Palestine, intelligence networks were established to track British and Arab movements. The Jews discovered when the British were planning to evacuate key installations so that the Haganah could immediately move into them. This intelligence was crucial to the Jews’ securing control of western Jerusalem. Abroad, Zionist operatives secured weapons and the means to transport them through elaborate ruses including dummy companies and airlines and clever smuggling techniques.
Fifty-four years later, Israelis are again under siege, fighting for their lives and their right to live a normal life in a Jewish state. It is being said that today the roles are reversed; whereas in 1948, the Jews lacked the military advantage but had the unity, determination and sense of purpose some say that in 2002, it is the Palestinians who lack the military advantage but possess the traits with which Israel won the 1948 war.
The victory of 1948 does belong to Israel and its lessons are still relevant today. Israelis must find ways to retrieve and refashion those 1948 assets. Impressed with the panic-free faces of Tel Avivians on May 15, 1948 following the beginning of Arab shelling, Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary, “Eleh Ya’amduh” – “These shall stand.” And so will they today.

The Lookstein Center