By Larry Gordon

How support for the state of Israel became controversial in some communities is beyond comprehension. At the same time, however, it’s important to break this down and to explain that support for Israel is not the issue that is contentious or divisive; it is the word “state,” as in the State of Israel.

This week we celebrated Israel Independence Day. For some schools and institutions it is a veritable holiday while for others the day passed unnoted, and that is just too bad for all of us. When my daughters were school-age in Brooklyn, Yom HaAtzma’ut was a holiday in their school. They were required to wear blue and white, the colors of the Israeli flag, and the day was filled with a great deal of singing and dancing.

Of course, there were boys’ schools that celebrated the day in a similar fashion, but that was not the case in the yeshivas that my boys attended. As far as my girls and boys were concerned, the schools were like two different universes.

It would be a good, nice, and even healthy thing if we, as the modern-day Jewish people, were able to dedicate ourselves on some level and in some way to being mindful of the great gift that the creation of the State of Israel was for all of us 73 years ago.

I am not suggesting that you have to wear blue and white or dance the day away to mark this momentous day in our communal history. The boys’ yeshivas do not and should not suspend classes or diminish any of the time dedicated daily to studying Torah. In order to observe Israel Independence Day it would be appropriate to accelerate the study of Torah on that specific day. If the school administration does not want the young men at the Celebrate Israel parade that is their prerogative.

The issue that is up for discussion is why in so many circles and communities Israel Independence Day passes and is unmentioned and neglected. For right-leaning yeshivas and communities the obstacle is mainly the secular nature of the government and the fact that it is not, at least presently, at all scrupulous or anything close to that about seeing to it that an effort is made for the Jewish State to do their very best to act Jewish.

That’s a broad statement if there ever was one. But by way of illustration, let’s take the Israel Defense Forces as an example. Over the last decade or so there have been a significant number of religiously observant men and women joining the IDF and even advancing in its ranks. But from the very start of the enterprise of the State of Israel, going back many years, whether in the barracks or in the field, the food served to soldiers—even though many were not careful about consuming only kosher—was always kosher.

Even though, unfortunately, the majority of American or Israeli Jews today are not strict about kashrus, in order to make everyone comfortable, the food prepared and served is kosher, and that is an important point.

Perhaps that is something that Jews both inside and outside of Israel would like to see regarding Shabbos observance, for example. No one expects perfection, but at least a government of a Jewish state should not be doing what the current Israeli government is doing—that is, seeking to legislate a reduction of any signs of national Sabbath observance.

The liberal members of Knesset insist that it is a matter of freedom of expression and personal rights more than anything else.

Yes, it is true that for all these years mass transit has had a day of rest on Shabbos in most of the country and especially Jerusalem. But if the current government would not be so distracted by trying to remain solvent and intact, they would most likely pass laws and adopt policies that had Shabbos on the roads of Israel look like any other day of the week. And that is not a situation about which an observant Jew can sing and dance in good conscience.

Then there is the more extreme position that subscribes to the belief that Israel should only exist through clear Divine Will and that mortal man has no business inserting himself into this process that is a vital dimension of the destiny of Am Yisrael. That position denies the reality of the existence of Israel as we know it.

And then there are the problems with conversions, kashrus enforcement or lack thereof, and the progressive outlook of the current Religious Affairs Minister, Matan Kahana. These are serious problems and concerns that cannot be adequately addressed in a 1,500-word essay.

But then I prefer thinking that there is the bigger picture—and that is the fact that Israel exists and is the home and homeland of not just nine million Jews but all the Jewish people the world over; whether you live presently in Kentucky or Kyiv, Israel is your home on some level.

So while these issues have existed since the establishment of the state in May 1948, there was never this type of accelerated or super-energized contentiousness that drove people and factions so far apart.

It is important to note that things were not always like this. I was in elementary school when the Six Day War broke out. Israel was at risk and no one knew what the result would be. I was a student at Yeshiva of Eastern Parkway then, and I don’t know how that yeshiva was categorized—or if yeshivas were even categorized at all during that period in our history.

All we knew was that there was a war and that Jews might be in trouble. It didn’t matter which Jews or what kind of Jews—just that Jewish lives were under threat and at stake.

My rebbe at the time was Rabbi Schindler, and all I knew about him was that his elderly father lived on our block in Crown Heights and that I occasionally saw him walking with his father. I thought at the time that it was an odd but nice thing to see my rebbe out of the classroom.

The menahel at the Yeshiva was the iconic Reb Motel Weinberg. All I can recall about him were his fiery eyes and blazing red beard. In later years, Reb Motel lived and served as a rosh yeshiva in Montreal.

But this is about Israel and how we reacted as young kids when Israel was in trouble. Firstly, our rebbe brought a radio into class so that we could listen to the latest news. We heard intermittent reports about the number of downed Syrian jets and the excitement when it was reported that Eastern Jerusalem had been liberated from Jordanian occupation. We didn’t understand what was going on but we cheered anyway.

I don’t know what was happening behind the scenes, but the next thing I knew I was with a friend out on Eastern Parkway at the Utica Avenue subway station with a large pillowcase, collecting money to be sent to Israel. It was June and it was sunny and warm outside. It was exhilarating for us to be a small part of this effort to help Israel, and it was also nice not to have to be in class for a couple of those early summer days.

And that is the point: Eretz Yisrael is much greater than any of the issues or disagreements you may have about this or that policy emanating from any given coalition government. (That does not diminish their vital nature and the impact these issues have on the future of the Jewish State and the Jewish people.)

The 5th of Iyar is a Friday this week, but when that Day of Independence falls on a Friday, as it does this year, the celebration is moved back by a day so as not to run into large-scale violation of Shabbos laws. That has been the policy for many years, and it’s important to note, as well as a very good place to start.

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