In case you missed it, in early May 5,000 supporters of Israel marched down Commonwealth Avenue, ending at Boston Common. The Boston Globe reported this to be a march of over a mile, with songs and dances, describing “hundreds of signs, mostly hand painted, carried by members of hundreds of organizations from various parts of New England in a demonstration of solidarity with Israel.” My father joined as well, sharing that it was a wonderful time with no anti-Israel protests in sight. Indeed The Globe doesn’t mention any either.

I, unfortunately, was unable to partake in the festivities, mostly due to the event taking place in 1970, over a decade before my birth.

It is difficult to imagine such an event taking place today. According to the ADL, in 2022 there was an all-time high of 3,697 antisemitic incidents in the U.S. In 2023, the ADL recorded 8,873 incidents. With rising antisemitic attacks and threats, and a more robust anti-Israel movement fueled by social media, today’s Israel Independence Day celebrations tend to be more localized, and in locations easier to secure, like JCCs and synagogues.

I grew up celebrating Yom HaAtzma’ut, Israel’s Independence Day, at CJP-supported events on Harvard Street in Brookline, and even the Boston Common. In the spring of 2003, as we were coming out of the Second Intifada, our Hillel celebrated Israel’s Independence Day on the UMass campus quad. Just as my father celebrated decades earlier, we were in public and unafraid. With Israeli tunes filling the cool spring air, mixing with the aromas of falafel and hummus, we danced to exhaustion, feasting and waving Israeli flags.

Israel’s flag was first designed at 170 Hanover St. in the North End. Around that time, Naphtali Imber, author of Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah,” was an editor down the street. Two decades later, my great-grandparents found themselves in Roxbury, while another set of grandparents were founding Tel Aviv in the dunes along the Mediterranean.

Israel’s Independence Day is a holiday of feeling proud to be Jewish. It is celebrating the right of Jews to determine our own destiny. And it was on my mind as we celebrated Passover, retold the story about the escape of the Jewish people from Egypt to the land of Israel, and collectively chanted, “Next year in Jerusalem!” As we prepare for the upcoming Independence Day, I have my own version of Passover’s “Dayenu” (“It Would Have Been Enough”): 

If Israel had just managed to stop the impending genocide of its people in 1948, that would be enough, dayenu!

Like most Jewish holidays, Yom HaAtzma’ut follows the mantra of “they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.” During Israel’s war for independence, Arab countries vowed “to drive the Jews into the sea.” The risk of genocide was too real given that Amin al-Husseini, the leader of Palestinian Arabs, had allied with the Nazis, that the Holocaust had ended recently, and that Jewish civilians were being targeted and slaughtered.

If Israel had managed to just become a beacon of equality in the Middle East, dayenu!

Israel’s Declaration of Independence vows to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture….” Time and time again, the Israeli Supreme Court has ensured that these rights are upheld.

If Israel had just solved the issue of Jewish refugees, dayenu!

Today, half the world’s Jews live in Israel. President Emeritus of Hillel Avraham Infeld shares that when he was growing up, the “noun that went along with the noun Jewish, more than any other noun, was the noun refugee.” In recent years, Israel has taken in Jews escaping from Ethiopia, Ukraine, antisemitism in France, etc. Israel ensures that there will never again be a Jewish refugee.

If Israel had just managed to become the one place in the world free of antisemitism, dayenyu!

As uneasy as it might feel these days given Hamas, most regions are surprisingly quite safe. Melissa Weiss, executive editor of Jewish Insider, wrote after the High Holidays in Tel Aviv: “I felt safe in a synagogue. I didn’t have to go through a metal detector to enter. I wasn’t taking mental stock of the exits. I wasn’t wondering who was carrying a pistol under their jacket. This is what it means to have a country of our own.” In contrast, Jewish students are feeling unsafe across the country. Last month, Rabbi Elie Buechler at Columbia University recommended that Jewish students stay home due to safety issues.

If Israel had just revived the Hebrew language, the only extinct language to become a national language again, dayenu!

Noa Tishby writes in “Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth” about a high school play that she put on about King David, reading texts right out of the Bible. As an ultra-secular Israeli, she didn’t think anything of it that she and the audience could understand Hebrew that was over 2,000 years old.

If Israel had won independence but in a much smaller area, dayenu!

The 1937 Peel Commission Plan called for Israel to have a small and disconnected territory, which Israel accepted and Arabs rejected. The U.N. partition plan a decade later increased the amount of land Israel would have. The plans called for areas such as Jerusalem to become “international.”

I am kvelling in pride for this place.

Today, I am also proud that my children are the fifth continuous generation to hold American citizenship, as well as the fifth continuous generation to hold Israeli citizenship. I hope that one day my children will know the feeling of parading down the main thoroughfare of Boston to show their pride in Israel. And I can’t wait for my kids to one day experience Israel for themselves, especially the carnival-like atmosphere in Tel Aviv during Independence Day. It’s a place we should all strive to find time in. Just this past December, Jerry Seinfeld visited Israel. When asked why by a reporter, he answered: “I’m Jewish.”

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