By Josh Yudkin
We just finished celebrating Passover and telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt and escaping slavery. We are still mourning racially motivated murders in Atlanta last month. As we come up on Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut, I can’t help turning to the words of Rabbi Avram Infeld, who said, “Judaism is not [just] a religion.” Judaism is peoplehood — we are Am Yisrael.
Israel has many meanings to Jews. It meant a nation-state and sovereignty to Theodor Herzl, a locus of spiritual and cultural traditions to Ahad Ha’am, and protecting and cultivating the biblical land called Israel to Ze’ev Jabotinsky. It conjured unity through reviving the Hebrew language for Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and it inspired peaceful and equal coexistence for Berl Katznelson. Going back to the first time the time the word was first used in the Bible, we see that Israel is about struggle — a sacred struggle.
As Am Yisrael, we are part of a collective timeless struggle against prejudice and hate. Through repeated firsthand experiences, we know the suffering and death that accompany these destructive forces. Antisemitism is a real contemporary force and threat. In fact, according to FBI records tracking hate crimes, we are currently experiencing an all-time high for antisemitic incidents here in America, including numerous assaults and fatalities. Importantly, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that only about 3% of hate crimes are actually reported to the FBI, indicating a much greater prevalence and magnitude of this issue.
We are not alone because, ironically, other than time, hate is one of the only forces that does not discriminate: it affects us all. Be it religion, race, sex, sexual preferences or political preferences, we can all, for some reason, be “otherized” and become the victim of prejudice and hate. Currently, xenophobic attitudes and actions are rising, especially affecting Asian Americans too.
Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut is a modern Jewish ritual — it is a 48-hour window of time where we retell and reimagine our 4,000-year-old tradition. Going from a nadir of sorrow to an apex of elation, we retell how we built a Jewish state and revived a global Jewish dialogue. We celebrate our vibrant vitality and Jewish home.
For me, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut embody my Jewish identity and our Jewish peoplehood. Our narrative is full of so much — too much — death, suffering and sacrifice. Our narrative is also defined by resilience, innovation and peoplehood. It is a story of a reunited family trying to catch up on lost time and putting all of the puzzle pieces together. This period of time is an invitation to celebrate the old-new land and story of Am Yisrael. It is a time where we celebrate our beautiful Jewish home, the State of Israel, and our intertwined and interconnected resilient family, Am Yisrael.
Joshua Yudkin currently serves as an executive committee member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and is a co-founder of JUST Conversations. He is an epidemiologist by training who was recently awarded a Fulbright research grant and works at the intersection of community building and public health.