Anat Hoffman, the energetic, inspirational, forward-thinking Executive Director of the IRAC (Israel Religious Action Center) in Jerusalem, reflects upon Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. In The Pluralist, the IRAC’s insightful eNewsletter, Hoffman captures the multi-sensory joy Jews feel at the creation/rebirth and existence of the State of Israel:
I am drawn again and again to A Tale of Love and Darkness, Amos Oz’s memoir of his early life in a young and bewildered Israel, a country which does not even formerly exist as such until a couple hundred pages into the book.
Every Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day, I think back to the passage in which Oz describes crawling into bed at three or four in the morning, still fully dressed, after celebrating the U.N.’s vote to create the state of Israel.
As a child, Oz understands the solemnity of the event, its historical dimensions, from observing the actions of his father, who lies down next to him and does something so out of character: he cries – tears of joy. And, in amazement, Oz takes note of his father’s reaction:
“I reached out sleepily to touch his face, just below his high forehead, and all of a sudden instead of his glasses my fingers met tears. Never in my life, before or after that night, not even when my mother died, did I see my father cry. And in fact I didn’t see him cry that night either: it was too dark. Only my left hand saw.”
Only his left hand saw. We remain in this moment with him – still our hand searches in the dark, tries to reach back in time to touch the moment of Israel’s creation, to grasp even a bit of what it must have been like to live through that time.
Oz does not choose the more reliable senses of sight or sound to translate the emotional incredibleness of one night years ago. He uses touch; and while we might imagine the sensation of hot tears on skin, something remains always out of our reach.
Oz, one of our greatest writers, comes close to but cannot pin down the ineffableness of that moment. Emotionally we get it, but putting it into words is like assembling a puzzle in a dream. But Oz invites us to try – with all our senses.
So I challenge you to do the same. Celebrate the event that made even Amos Oz’s father cry with joy. Tonight, as we move from Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day, to Yom Ha’atzmaut, let’s celebrate with all our senses.