Yom Ha’atzmaut 2022
This week we transition from Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) to Yom HaAtztmaut (Israel’s Independence Day). The juxtaposition of these holidays should not be lost upon us. Yom HaShoah falls on the 27th of the Jewish month of Nissan, a date corresponding to the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Yom HaAtztmaut falls eight days later because Israel declared its independence on the fifth of Iyar in 1948. While we have prayed and yearned to return to the Land of Israel for the past 1900 years, the Holocaust gave us no alternative. There absolutely had to be a place where Jews could call home.
The below excerpt, which is from the memory of Joseph “Tommy” Lapid, in MEMORIES AFTER MY DEATH, written by his son, Yair Lapid, encapsulates this urgent need:
“They marched us down the length of Pozohony Street, toward the Margaret Bridge, and that was when we understood they were bringing us to the edge of the Danube, where they would shoot us and leave us to die under the ice. When we arrived at the foot of the bridge, a Soviet reconnaissance aircraft appeared out of nowhere over our heads. The death march stopped, and there was a moment of chaos while the Nazi guards sought refuge in the entrance to buildings and shot their submachine guns skyward. Mother and I were standing next to a small public toilet of metal painted green, and mother pushed me inside. ‘Pretend you’re peeing,’ she said. I stood there frozen with cold and fear, but I could not pee; when you are thirteen years old and frightened, you cannot pee. The Soviet plane had meanwhile disappeared, and the march resumed. Not a soul noticed that mother and I had remained in the toilet. Half an hour later, not a single person from the march was left alive. This was a key moment in my life, the moment that defines me more accurately than any other – more than anything I ever did, more than any place I ever visited, more than any person I have ever met. Not because I was spared –every survivor has their own story or a private miracle – but because I had nowhere to go. In this big wide world, there was not a single place for a Jewish boy of thirteen whom everyone wanted to kill. So we went back to the ghetto.
Years later, on a trip I took to Budapest with my son Yair, we took a walk and found ourselves, without planning to, at the Margaret Bridge. We strolled along, chatting merrily, when suddenly I stopped and, shaking, pointed at something ahead of us. At first, Yair could not understand what I was pointing at, but there it was: the public toilet made of metal and painted green. We stood there, two grown men, hugging and crying and stroking the green walls of the public toilet that saved my life, while the Hungarians who passed us on the street did so with caution, convinced they were looking at two lunatics. “My boy,” I said, once I was calm enough to speak, “it was in this place, without my even knowing it, that I became a Zionist. It is the whole Zionist idea, in fact. The State of Israel is a problematic place, and we’ll always have our arguments with it, but this is the very reason it was established. So that every Jewish child will always have a place to go.” I hope that Yair understood. I am certain that he did not forget.” Yair is currently the Foreign Affairs Minister of Israel; I’m sure he did not.
While life is still great for Jews in America, antisemitism has been on the rise across the country, and is experienced acutely on many university campuses. Aliyah, from the United States and worldwide, was up over 30% in 2021. This alone is indicative that all is not well in the diaspora. Israel has also welcomed over 9000 new immigrants from Ukraine in the past two months. While no nation’s decisions and policies are beyond reproach, Israel is not the villain the NGOs and media organizations paint her to be. The ultimate raison d’être for the State still remains, “So that every Jewish child will always have a place to go.”