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Apr 18, 2010

Haredim do celebrate Yom Ha'Atzmaut

Yom Ha'Atzmaut presents a dilemma to many Haredim. "We do participate in the State (not like some extreme elements), but we are not sure what to do about Yom Ha'Atzmaut" is a common refrain that can be heard, if the sentiment is verbalized at all. The trend though, as you will see in a moment, perhaps unscientifically, is that more and more are celebrating Yom Ha'Atzmaut, in some way.

The Jpost has an article about the dilemma of Haredim on Yom Ha'Atzmaut.

Sacher Park has been packed for the past few years with large haredi families, who join what has become the most typical Israeli celebratory ritual – the barbecue. One could say that the sight of haredim fanning the flames of a barbecue grill indicates their integration into Israeli society.

But is that really the case?

“Haredim are becoming an integrated part of Israeli society, there’s no question about it,” says Yanki Pashkuss, a businessman and former high-ranking professional at the municipality. “But I wouldn’t base that conclusion on the fact that they barbecue on Independence Day. I wouldn’t conclude that barbecue is equal to Zionism, thus participation of haredim in this trend doesn’t say anything about their position regarding the Zionist state.”

One thing is certain: While this year, as in the past years, the media will probably show some photos or footage of haredim burning the national flag, the fact is that for a growing majority of haredim, celebrating Independence Day has become natural. And although the way it is celebrated still takes on a different form than that of the general public, the national holiday is nevertheless considered a kind of festive day.

ONE OF the issues most commonly raised among religious Zionists and haredim regarding the celebration of Independence Day is connected to the religious or ritual aspects this day has acquired over the years. “In the religious Zionist community, one of the major issues is the Hallel prayer added to the morning service and avoiding saying the Tahanun on that day,” says Haim Miller, a Ger Hassid who was a former deputy mayor to Teddy Kollek and Ehud Olmert and today is the chairman of the Movement for Jerusalem and Its Residents, which aims to improve the social conditions of the local population.
How does Miller himself mark Independence Day? “We celebrate differently, but not only that day. Even the haredim who barbecue in Sacher Park still look and behave differently. You won’t see them half naked or men and women dancing together. But in many of the yeshivot, special learning connected to the issues of our sovereignty will be learned, stores are closed, and families spend time together and spend quality time in nature. It’s been like that for quite a while, but in the Israeli media there is always a scandalous news piece showing a handful of haredi kids burning the Israeli flag in front of some TV crew. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if in many cases those children were incited to do so because the Israeli secular society loves to show us in embarrassing situations.”

More interestingly, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, founder of Zaka and someone who he himself has made a complete turn around in his personal life goign from an extreme anti-State Eidah guy to participating in State ceremonies and Yom Ha'Atzmaut celebrations, insists that Haredim celebrate Yom Ha'Atzmaut.

For many Israelis, the day Zaka (Disaster Victims Identification) founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav was invited to light a torch at a national ceremony on the eve of Independence Day could be considered a landmark event, although not all haredim appreciated his act. But Meshi-Zahav, who has always been very outspoken, doesn’t seem to mind criticism, without paying too much attention to what is deemed politically correct.

“Who says haredim don’t celebrate Independence Day?” he asks with more than a hint of sarcasm. “Check out the rooftops in the haredi neighborhoods on Independence Day, and you will see how they are packed with haredim who watch the fireworks and the IDF aircraft aerobatics. And who do you think pack the IDF bases that are open to the public on that day? Haredim, of course, with their large families. I’m pretty sure they greatly outnumber secular visitors, who hardly celebrate Independence Day in connection to its ideological meaning anymore... for the majority of the haredi community, this is a festive day without a doubt.”

Earlier this week in the haredi neighborhood of Geula, Miriam, a mother of three in her early 30s, revealed how she would be marking the upcoming Independence Day. “It’s a celebration but it’s not a yom tov [religious holiday], of course,” she says. “It’s not that we are not grateful to Hashem for the State of Israel, but we are committed to a very different way of life. Secular Israelis celebrate in a way that is not compatible with our holy Torah, and our rabbis teach us how to maintain an appropriate attitude. We do not celebrate by dancing, and certainly not… you know… mixed genders. It is absolutely forbidden.”

Asked if her husband would consider reciting Hallel at his synagogue on the morning of Independence Day, Miriam is quick to respond, “Of course not. But not because, like you perhaps think, we are not happy about the state, but anything new or different from the custom is prohibited. And anyway, it’s the task of the rabbis to decide, not me.”

Regarding how she and her family plan to spend the day, she says, “My husband works in an educational institution and it closes, so we will probably go to barbecue somewhere. We will meet with the rest of the family – sisters and brothers and their children – as we did last year, but no music and no dancing, of course.”

THERE IS no doubt that the atmosphere in the haredi neighborhood has changed over the years in that it has become more tolerant regarding Independence Day. As for the reasons that led to the change, Meshi-Zahav has some surprising remarks. “I remember when I was growing up in Mea She’arim, children used to compete to steal as many Israeli flags as possible for the fire we would light with them. Despite the infamous images the TV news will surely show again this year, this is no longer the tone in the haredi community. You can always find a bunch of kids who have no idea what it really means and perhaps even convince them to ignite the flags in front of the cameras, but that is really only in the most extreme parts. Today’s haredi generation doesn’t pay too much attention to ideology. Don’t forget, most of them were already born into the reality of the State of Israel. Whether we say Hallel and Tahanun or not doesn’t really say anything about our attitude toward the state or Independence Day.”

Asked if his invitation to light one of the torches on the eve of Independence Day seven years ago was a signal for his community to change its attitude, Meshi-Zahav bursts into laughter. “I was the first but not the only one, you know. After me, Rabbi Yitzhak Grossman from Migdal Ha’emek lit one and even received the Israel Prize for his charity and education activities. This is not a theological argument among us anymore. The State of Israel is a fact, the Zionist state is a fact – as far as it can still be called a Zionist state.

“Yes, there was some pressure on me and on Grossman not to participate, but nothing really serious. In the haredi press it was mentioned but not highlighted. But on the other hand, every year you can see haredim literally fighting to get tickets for the opening ceremony on Mount Herzl. And the impressive number of haredim, whole families, visiting the army bases, the museums all open for free on that day is incredible. You have no idea, for example, how many haredim make plans to get close to a TV set to watch the opening ceremony or the fireworks.”
Meshi-Zahav says he is invited every year to lecture and to meet people around Independence Day, where he mingles with secular and religious Israelis. That gives him the strong impression that the harsh opposition between haredim and secular people about the Zionist state is over. But for him, it is no less the result of the diminishing Zionist ideology of the secular than the haredi understanding that the State of Israel is a fact and is not going to fade away.

But perhaps the best example of the ongoing changes is what Pashkuss describes: “Today, I can visit my secular friends – and I have a lot – and be their guest when they celebrate Independence Day. Just as they respect me when they come to my house to light the Hanukka candles with me and my family, I have no fear facing a secular Israeli Jew: I know that haredi education is strong, that it won’t harm or threaten my religion and beliefs, I feel strong about it. And it allows me to develop friendships with secular people, something the previous generation couldn’t allow themselves. There is no problem today with Zionism among haredim, besides the members of Natorei Karta, from whom we are the first to suffer. Today, secular Israelis are much less passionate about their Zionist ideology anyway.”

Perhaps people no longer must feel any dilemma. The trend is that more and more are celebrating it, even without official sanction from community leaders and rabbonim. Perhaps it will soon become standard fare and nobody will feel any stigma against celebrating, each in his or her own way, the State of Israel's existence.


  1. I dont think taking a mandatory day off from work, and spending it with your kids at a BBQ, on a day when they are forced to be off from school - without explaining to them WHY they are off - constitutes celebrating YH.

    I also dont like the apologetics in these articles. Meshi Zahav talks like hes begging to be accepted, and the meah shearim lady doesnt sound like she has a clue.

    I live in a chareidi area - albeit not SUUUCH a chareidi stronghold - and the day passes without so much a bother.

    People walk thru the sirens on both yom hashoah and yom hazikaron. Not to disrespect, but thats not how we do things. Learning in Kollel doesnt so much as pause for the siren.

    YH passes the same way - without anyone taking notice, except that the BY schools are off. Chadorim are in full swing. Kollel doesnt give off at all. Its just annoying that stores have less hours.

    Its also *SICK* that there are worse fines for desecrating YH than for desecrating Shabbos or selling chometz on Pesach. But I guess when half your country doesnt care too much about your ideals, and the other half doesnt even know what the ideals are, you have to have laws in order to ensure that someone celebrates.

    Oh, and another thing, I dont think that looking at the fireworks is can be construed as celebrating. These same people would look at the fireworks on July 4th, Cinco demayo, as well as Dec 25, Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King Day. because its just fireworks.

    No need to pretend we celebrate. We dont. Quit the apologetics

  2. We need more normalcy.Regarding Yom Haatzmaut and also regarding every day life in our community.

    HaRav Chayim, HaRav Chayim Solo, HaRav Chayim Soloveichik.

    A true community leader. And not just regarding the mikveh on Dolev.

  3. anonymous - are you sure there should be fines for breaking shabbos? i mean to say that it may increase some forms of observance slightly, but what about causing resentment? is that really being memakerev bavsos haahava as the chazon ish writes to do? in the us, as many before me have noted, there is separation of church and state and no state-imposed religion at all, and yet i think the hightest rate of religious observance in the west...it seems today that when you dont coerce, you get more religious involvement. by contrast in the muslim world does coercion create real religiousity worth achieving? are we not better off not forcing and being mekarev by example, education etc? i really wonder if israel had separation of synagogue and state if there would not be more observance. my instinct nowadays is that there would be. i do understand that without rabbanut marriage etc there might be more intermarriage, but still i am not clear that state-imposed religion is the way to go. if haredim become more numerous - i think it's one thing to fight for religious observance on the part of the state, in national institutions etc but different to impose it on chilonim and i think it probably will be a bad idea if they do the latter.
    one thing that worries me is that i dont think haredi establishment has given that much thought to what they would do with more power which they seem poised to get - or is that a mistake, and they have?

  4. I think Meshi-Zahav is overly optimistic. Here in Kiryat Sefer, I am sorry to say that all the sirens passed without a flicker of recognition. When I asked my boys what they did during the sirens I was told "nothing". YH is just another school day.
    Both my wife and I are off work with nothing to do, and nowhere to go. If we take our kids out of school/yeshiva they will be kicked out; if we go bbq by ourselves word will get out and it could make problems for our kids. Many years ago a family of new US olim made a bbq on their porch, and their girls were almost kicked out of school. It took a lot of intervention to explain to the Principal that things are different in the US, and the family didn't mean anything! Sadly we are still living in a close-minded, backward society

  5. I understand where they stand. They feel the state shouldn't have been re-established until Moshiach comes, but it's okay to reside individually. However, they STILL LOVE the Land, they just feel things were done prematurely, before it's time.

  6. http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/744024/Rabbi_Aaron_Soloveichik/Saying_Hallel_on_Yom_Haatzmaut

  7. So dont punish for "breaking" YH, like on Shabbos. But dont be inconsistent about it.

    Why forse observance of YH?

    Are you so scared that no one will care about your holiday? So maybe that says something about what teh state is doing, how it acts, how it leads. what it stands for. Maybe its time for a change in what the day means, and then more people will WILLINGLY celebrate it

  8. Shalom - I dont think its a closed minded society - not because of the examples you gave. I wouldnt want my kids in a school with kids of a family with hashkafos against the Torah. IF you would agree that such hashkafos are against the Torah, then you will understand why 99% of people in KS would want those kids out of school - bc their parents have crum hashkafos.

    So you are really arguing that a small celebration of YH is not against the Torah. OK - go explain that to KS who follows the Chazon Ish, the Brosker Rov etc etc on these issues, and you will find that they DO think its against the Torah.

    I think it makes a lot of sense, and if there were kids like that in my kids school, I would look for a different school.

  9. I love RCS's chevra.
    I dont know what he has to do with anything in this post. You just like him, so you give him props here on a blog.
    I am telling you. Theres something special about you guys

  10. "IF you would agree that such hashkafos are against the Torah, then you will understand why 99% of people in KS would want those kids out of school - bc their parents have crum hashkafos."

    Uh, Anon, this attitude is the definition of backward closeminded society.

    Why are against being called backward and closeminded if you believe so strongly that that's the best way to raise your kids?

  11. Anon - times are changing. Israel has been hear for 62 years and iy"H will still be here 62 years from now (and more).

    Without the State of Israel there would be hundreds of thousands of Jews without a homeland. Not all Israelis came to Israel by "choice" from the safe shores of the USA.

    Israel is not perfect - we all know that. YH is during the Omer - on that we can also agree, and therefore perhaps you can suggest that some of the festivities are without source - although there are many Rabbis who would disagree, but we should be able to acknowledge the good in the situation. Call it - "cup half-full day" if you like, and not try to act as though YH can go away if we ignore it. It won't!

  12. "So dont punish for "breaking" YH, like on Shabbos. But dont be inconsistent about it.

    Why forse observance of YH?"

    Ok, i take your point, but i still would like to know what the haredi esptablishment would like as far as religious coercion is concerned...

    regarding the larger point, i think YH is not different than the US fourth of july and we don't have big issues here with bdavka not celebrating july 4 (granted no hallel and no doing away w/ tachanun, but i mean celebration secular style) - you know, jews ought to be happy living anyplace where they are protected and free to practice judaism even if this place is not perfect. in practice, my main issue with the israeli govenment nowadays is if anything that they should be doing more IMO to protect jews, lcearly israel is a haven for jews, we've had tremendous growth of torah, and i just don't understand why not going along - not as a religious holiday, OK, butas a secular one and an expression of gratitude to the rbs"o also. these quarrels DO seem to me to be relics of the past and quite pointless. you can have a bb1 and thanks god for a govt that pays kollel checks and exempts kollel yungerleit from the army, and everyone will be happy.


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