April 18, 2024
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Israel Celebrates More Than Independence This Year

This Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel will not just be celebrating 73 years since the establishment of the Jewish state, but also marking another miracle. That despite its size and geographical location, Israel has managed to lead the world in vaccinating its population against COVID-19.

While Jewish communities in North and South America, Europe and South Africa are still enduring closures and lockdowns, Israel has opened up and hospitals are closing their COVID wards with no new or serious COVID inpatients.

“As we celebrate Israel’s 73rd year of independence, it is a continuous miracle that Jews from around the world have a place to return to and call home,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN).

“Despite the challenges we have all faced this past year due to COVID, Israel can be extremely proud of what it has managed to accomplish together as a country and a nation. Our olim have continued to shape its culture, economy and national character through their resilience and devotion,” remarked Rabbi Fass.

Melissa Taub, 29, made aliyah with NBN in 2015 from the Upper West side in New York. She lives in Tel Aviv and works as a UI/UX designer at Gett. She comes from a very Zionistic family, went to SAR, Moshava IO and then Midreshet Harova.

Last year, Taub celebrated Yom Haaztmaut in Jerusalem with her cousins, with whom she stayed during the lockdown. “My cousin’s husband is a chazzan and led the tefilah chagigit with the mirpeset minyan, which was beautiful. During the day we ate some great homemade shakshuka and watched the celebrations on TV.” This year she hasn’t yet planned what she’s doing. “It’s going to be last minute, but very different from last year. I’ll be out celebrating with my friends in the special atmosphere,” Taub said.

Why is living in Israel so special? Taub reflected, “There’s something about seeing ‘chag sameach’ written on buses or hearing ‘Shabbat shalom’ from the grocer that just makes you feel at home.”

“Growing up in Manhattan, even though there were many Jews around, we existed as a small fraction within a bigger picture. In Israel, I don’t have to explain chagim or kashruth to my employers. I no longer feel like a visitor. I’m home,” she concluded.

Boaz Yaari 28, from Stamford, Conn., made aliyah with NBN in 2011 and now lives in Kiriyat Ono. He is married to Eliana (daughter of olim from Florida) and pursuing a doctorate at the Weitzman Institute.

“Last year on Yom Haatzmaut, I worked at the hospital and university and had a steak dinner with my wife. It didn’t feel as exciting, but was understandable given the circumstances. This year we plan to be with our extended family, with a very large barbecue like we do in most years.

“You can’t compare Jewish life here to the U.S,” continued Yaari. Jewish life here is more natural and easy, I don’t need to be part of a community, ask for special days for holidays or explain my lifestyle to anybody here. In the U.S., Jews have to either assimilate to their Jewish communities or assimilate to secular society; the in between just doesn’t work, and the statistics show this,” said Yaari. “Being observant is also a lot easier and more affordable here, which allows me to live a lifestyle that I connect to more. This difference obviously doesn’t work for much of Jewry living outside of Israel, but for me is a perfect and a much happier place to live.

“Finally, with everything going on in the world today, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I feel safer, have a stronger trust in my country’s government and population, and worry less about what’s going on,” he concluded.

Karen and David Weinstein, ages 66 and 67, made aliyah from Queens with NBN in March 2020 to Raanana. “Making aliyah during COVID was actually a good decision for us. We had no need to rush anywhere, so we had time to acclimatize,” said David.

“Unlike in the U.S., where it’s a very ‘me’ based philosophy, in Israel there is a ‘we’ based approach to life. This really helped us during COVID, as we felt we were all in this together. The fear factor of COVID here in Israel is not crushing as in the U.S., as here they are used to dealing with difficulties and improvising.

“We have made wonderful new friends—even during COVID—at our local pool, tennis courts and our shul, Ohel Ari. Our new neighbors have even invited us to a Yom Haatzmaut barbeque,” said David.

Karen and David can’t deny that having a granddaughter in Israel was an important factor in their decision to make aliyah. “When our daughter, Shoshi, turned 21 after two years of college in the U.S., she decided she wanted to make a new life for herself in Israel. She went to the IDC, where she met her husband-to-be, an oleh from Cleveland and they have one daughter,” added Karen.

“Our closing wish for Israel on her 73rd birthday is ‘unity in the government, unity in people, and unity among neighbors,’” concluded David.

As Jews in Israel and around the world remember on Yom Hazikaron the over 30,000 Israelis who have fallen in Israel’s defense and the Jews who have been killed in terror attacks, this year we will also remember the 6,000 Israelis—including over 900 Holocaust survivors—who died from the COVID virus.

The next day, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, we will stand together shedding tears of joy, celebrating not only the 73-year –old miracle of the State of Israel, but the new miracle of Israel leading the world in vaccinating its citizens against COVID.


Benjy Singer lives in Jerusalem and is a freelance journalist and social media consultant.

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