Bone Day: Reflections on Yom Ha’atzmaut
Growing up, I never heard of Yom Ha’atzmaut. It just wasn’t something I was told existed. Not that my parents or community didn’t love Israel. They loved it with all their hearts. They just wouldn’t call it Israel. They didn’t call it Palestine either. They called it “Eretz Yisro’el.” Though my parents were, for all intents and purposes, Zionists, they would never refer to themselves as such. Zionism was a treif word in my community.
In yeshiva I learned about something called “the Medinah.” We loved Eretz Yisro’el, but we hated “the Medinah.” I was taught that treife Zionists created this Medinah, and that the Medinah was terrible because it was created by secular anti-religious people. I didn’t really understand what “the Medinah” was, but from what I can make out, it referred to the Israeli government. I was taught to despise the name Herzl as someone who didn’t care about Israel and actually wanted the Jewish state to be in Uganda. The first time I visited the Ben-Gurion Airport I was twelve years old, and I looked at the big statue of Ben-Gurion in the airport and thought to myself, “so this is the rasha Ben-Gurion.”
In my yeshiva high school, I thought that the Israeli Zionist government hated frum Jews, and they tried to force frum bochurim like me into the army in order to make us secular. My yeshiva participated in days of Tehillim reading with many other yeshivos because of the “shverer matzav” (harsh situation) of the government trying to force bochurim into the army. The first time I heard of Yom Ha’atzmaut, I was 15.
“Are you celebrating Bone Day?” a friend of mine asked in the privacy of the stairwell. He laughed at his joke, but I was confused.
“What’s Bone Day?”
“Yom Ha’atzmaus! Get it? Atzamos means bones, so it’s Bone day.”
He laughed at the joke he clearly heard from another feste bochur in yeshiva.
I was still confused. Yom Ha’atzmaus? Was this some holiday I never heard of? He explained to me that it was the day the Zionists celebrated Israel. This intrigued me. He told me that some people even say Hallel on that day. I was shocked to my core. To me, my religious identity was tied up to anti-Zionism. I couldn’t imagine that there were frum Jews who said Hallel for a Zionist holiday. Religious Zionism as a concept was foreign to me.
My views have shifted radically since then, as I grew dissatisfied with the closed insular approach of the yeshiva world. This past Yom Ha’atzmaut was my third on which I said Hallel. On the night of Yom Ha’atzmaut, I danced with my friends and an Israeli flag into the wee hours of the morning. I rejoiced on Israel’s 70th birthday, surrounded by my friends, my rebbeim, and even the president of my institution. How lucky I am that I get to be in YU, a yeshiva that celebrates modern Zionism and the State of Israel. In YU, I can proudly thank Hashem for the greatest miracle He has wrought for us, returning us to our holy land. I am infinitely happy to be in a yeshiva that calls itself religious Zionist, and doesn’t reject the State of Israel simply because it was started by secularists. On the contrary, we support Israel, and encourage students to make Aliyah and serve in the Israeli army.
I think many people take YU for granted and don’t realize how unique it is. YU is one of the only batei midrash in America that proudly supports Israel and observes Yom Ha’atzmaut with our unique religious spirit. It’s one of the only places where I can dance with an Israeli flag and celebrate the miracle of our modern state, the same way I’d dance with a Torah and celebrate our religious heritage. We must continue, as a people and an institution, to proudly carry our gemara/tanach in one hand, while holding up an Israeli flag with the other. Perhaps, in this way, we can convince the rest of Am Yisro’el to do the same.