Questions and Dreams
Navigating between Passover and Yom Ha’atzmaut, I have been reflecting on two questions: Why is this anniversary of Israel’s independence—the 75th—different from all others? And why does Hadassah’s celebration have a unique undercurrent?
For most of modern Israel’s history, Yom Ha’atzmaut has been observed in the shadow of the latest security crisis—war, terror, threat from external forces or the knowledge that the most recent success brought reprieve rather than permanent peace.
Given the recent controversy over how to reconcile majority rule and a government of checks and balances, there is a palpable sense that we are living through a similar emergency, except that the challenge is internal rather than external. Yet once again, the crisis may have begun to cool without being resolved.
All nations are complicated. And as the British rabbi and radio commentator Lionel Blue once observed, “Jews are like everyone else, only more so.” I do not mean to make light of the challenges of Israeli governance. Nations can and do break themselves from within.
But if I have to choose between a civic war of words and a military war of arms, I’ll take the former. And what I have seen of Israeli democracy in recent weeks encourages me to celebrate this Independence Day even more than before. The thousands upon thousands of blue-and-white flags at demonstrations and counter demonstrations throughout the country highlighted the point: Israeli society rests upon a freely elected government and an engaged citizenry. And the controversy of the moment reminds us that Israel reborn represents a miracle for the ages.
It’s a miracle in which Hadassah has always played a central role. Beginning with the first two nurses we sent to Jerusalem in 1913, Hadassah built the health care infrastructure of the state and continues to operate the nation’s flagship medical center. One month before David Ben-Gurion declared independence in 1948, with war already raging, Arab forces attacked a convoy on its way to our hospital on Mount Scopus, massacring 78 patients, medical staff and Haganah escorts. Shortly thereafter, Mount Scopus was cut off behind Jordanian lines, and we ultimately built a new hospital in Ein Kerem. During the Six-Day War, the reunification of Jerusalem also meant the unification of Hadassah’s two campuses.
Our medical center has been more than a healing force for Israel’s patients. It has been a unifying force of society. It is renowned as an oasis of peace, where Jewish and Arab staff, patients and families mingle and often share joy and grief in an atmosphere of respect, support and equality. One of the most indelible stories of recent years, encapsulating so much of the worst and best, involved a Jewish patient who died after being attacked in intercommunal rioting and whose family gave permission for two Muslim Hadassah physicians to transplant his heart into a Christian patient.
At Hadassah, we don’t just talk about Israel as a light unto the nations.
Israel is the responsibility and the treasure of all its citizens and of the Jewish people worldwide. It is inseparable from the 40 years in the desert under Moses and the 2,000 years of wandering after the destruction of the Second Temple. It is bundled in millennia of daily prayers for the restoration of Jerusalem, in the ingathering of exiles, the revival of a culture and national language, in a million smaller miracles, in a constant campaign for peace and security and also an ongoing quest for repairing the nation, ourselves and the world.
Israel is the embodiment of dreams, but also a constant reminder that the sweetest dreams don’t erase the most intractable challenges.
We celebrate not because things are perfect, but because the dream is alive.
As we move from Passover to Yom Ha’atzmaut, commemorating ancient Israel and its modern rebirth, may we all celebrate the season in joy and peace.
Susanna Levin says
I have not found another way to contact you, so I am using this. I regret not writing a letter to the editor at the time that Hadassah decided (most unfortunately, in my opinion) to honor Gwyneth Paltrow. I find nothing about her that is worth honoring. She is one of the biggest snake oil sales people today, and does nothing good for women.
I present the evidence below: