When the news broke in Jerusalem of the United Nations’ vote to partition Palestine, it was a Saturday night after sunset. I was 25 and a student at Hebrew University, taking a year off from my rabbinical program at the Jewish Theological Seminary. I was living with my grandfather, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, in Kerem Avraham, a highly religious neighborhood.
That night, all of Jerusalem erupted into joy. People ran into the streets, shouting, singing and dancing in a frenzy. Grocery stores opened to hand out free bottles of wine to the celebrators. Cars and trucks roamed the streets, offering rides to anyone who wanted to whoop it up.
The growing crowds all headed toward the Jewish Agency building on King George Street, the unofficial headquarters of the underground Jewish government. Hundreds of people danced the horah and sang Hebrew songs with wild enthusiasm.
Suddenly, Golda Meir stepped onto the balcony overlooking the crowd and asked for silence. She expressed our feeling of joy for the fulfillment of our 2,000-year-old dream of re-creating a Jewish state in Israel. But she warned us that dreams came at a price. The United Nations was not handing us a state. We would have to earn it with our lives. We would have to defend it from our enemies, and many Jewish lives would be lost before the state would be born.
Everyone became very somber as the realization of her message took hold. One could sense a powerful resolve settling in.
And then the singing and dancing resumed.
Joshua Stampfer is rabbi emeritus at Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland, Ore.