Just 71 years ago, Israel declared its independence based on several factors:
God promised the Land of Israel to the Jews in the Bible – echoed in the Christian Bible and even (gasp!) in the Koran.
Three ancient Jewish kingdoms in Israel are part of archaeological and historical records.
Early 20th-century diplomatic agreements called for a national home for the Jews in Israel.
The League of Nations issued a Mandate for Palestine*in which a Jewish national home would be established.
The United Nations issued a 1947 Partition Plan allowing for the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine. (“Palestine” is the name Roman Emperor Hadrian called the Land of Israel, in an attempt to erase its Jewish connections.)
After the fact, the United Nations recognized Israel’s independence and three times Israel fought and won defensive wars against Arab invaders, thereby incorporating its ancient homeland into Israel.
As many of my readers know, Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) is preceded by Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day the previous week) and Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance Day for victims of terror and military personnel the previous day), which segues into Yom Ha’atzmaut. Here there are no SALES on Yom HaZikaron, nor is it a day off from work, nor are entertainment venues open. But 24 hours after the start of Yom HaZikaron, the nation’s mood changes dramatically from solemnity to excitement. The country riotously celebrates the reality of the Jewish State, a nation which has an amazing number of accomplishments in its brief history.
Just a few:
In its first decade, Israel absorbed a huge influx of immigrants, more than doubling its population.
Israel’s Jewish population has burgeoned from 600,000 in 1948 to about 6.3 million today.
Israel is the only Western country with a birthrate which more than replaces itself, with 3.1 children per mother.
Israel’s population is one of the world’s happiest.
Israel is a member of the OECD, the “club” of the world’s most prosperous nations.
Israel is the per capita leader in high tech development, its main engine of economic growth.
Israel is the safe home for Jews who face increasing Jew hatred in their countries of birth.
That’s enough about history and statistics. What about the fun part?
During the morning of Yom Ha’atzmaut, we visit Israeli sites. This year we went to an historical site and museum that we hadn’t visited previously, attended the almost mandatory barbecue in the afternoon, and a few days later, a gala celebrating one of the best organizations defending Israel’s reputation.
With our usual Yom Ha’atzmaut buddies, we set out early and soon arrived in Holon, which has the second-largest industrial zone in Israel, but is also known for its extensive attractions for children. Our objective was the Hosmasa Building, which today is surrounded by a lovely urban park in this Tel Aviv suburb. The structure was constructed over an ancient well in 1934 and was built in the prevalent Bauhaus style (German-inspired simplicity and lack of ornamentation, with a symmetric, functional, international design).
Built for defensive reasons, there is an observation tower on the building, storage rooms, and space for personnel to live. During its active period stretching until the 1948 War of Independence, thousands of trainees participated in weapons/field skills, observation, fortifications, communications, first aid, close combat, topography and other courses. There were several “slicks” nearby where weapons (forbidden to Jews, allowed for Arabs by the British during the Mandate period) were secreted.
The Palmach (strike forces) were deployed from around Hosmasa to capture the area to the north and west of Holon, which included Arab villages on the outskirts of Arab-inhabited Jaffa. Hosmasa was an important station on the security road during the war connecting Tel Aviv with settlements in the south of the country, Jerusalem, and the Negev. Today Hosmasa is a popular spot to visit on Yom Ha’atzmaut and also for school excursions throughout the year.
Moving on, we drove the short distance to another, very green, suburb of Tel Aviv. Rishon LeZion is the fourth-largest city in Israel, located along the central Israeli coastal plain south of Tel Aviv. It is one of Israel’s first religious Zionist communities, founded in 1882 and located amidst sand dunes and marsh. On this beautiful day, we were keen to see one of Israel’s newest museums, in Rishon LeZion, featuring the kinetic art of Ya’acov Agam.
From a Trip Advisor review:
“Mr. Agam is a national treasure and this museum, dedicated in 2017, is a testament to his genius. A force in modern art since the 1950s, this artist continues to work everyday at 92 years old, creating new art that pushes the limits [of one’s imagination]. His whole concept is to invite the viewer to become a partner in the art and creative process. Not optical illusion, but true participatory experience. Visiting gives you real understanding of one of the most important movements and artists of the 20th & 21st centuries.”
Agam’s work is not just museum or home sized. He has three huge projects in the Tel Aviv area. The Dan Hotel’s long frontage on the Mediterranean is completely painted in a huge, idiosyncratic way. Just north of Tel Aviv is a whole development of apartment buildings utilizing Agam’s design aesthetic. And the iconic revolving water fountain (currently being refurbished) which graces the rebuilt Dizengoff Circle in the heart of town.
We loved Agam’s museum! Its size is small enough to allow viewing the whole collection, but interesting enough to ensure more visits. The complexity of the artwork is an amazing accomplishment, combining artistry, geometry, and a command of many materials and technologies. We’ll be sure to bring visitors there, affording ourselves additional chances to enjoy Agam’s work.
A few days later, on the exact Gregorian calendar date for Yom Ha’atzmaut, we attended a fundraiser in Jerusalem for StandWithUs, which is an international, non-profit Israel education organization. Founded in 2001, it is dedicated to educating people of all ages, but mostly young ones, about Israel as well as dedicated to combating the Jew hatred and extremism that often distorts the issues about Israel. Its credo: that knowledge of the facts will correct common prejudices about the Arab-Israeli conflict, and will promote discussions and policies that can help promote peace in the region. Through many avenues, StandWithUs ensures that the story of Israel’s achievements and ongoing challenges gets to middle schools, high schools, and college campuses across the world. StandWithUs has eighteen offices and chapters across the US and internationally. (standwithus.com)
We were treated to hearing several of StandWithUs’s young ambassadors, who described some of the experiences they have had educating and supporting American college students. We were also thrilled to hear Roz Rothstein, a founder and current CEO of the organization. Roz told us how she and others founded this powerhouse just 18 years ago, after waiting in vain for someone else to start this type of proactive effort to defend Israel.
This celebration was a fitting climax to this year’s celebration of Israel’s independence. Israel goes from strength to strength despite its many enemies and doubters. And by the way, this time of year in Israel is a perfect time for your first visit or for your tenth one!