Why I celebrate Israel
For me, a third-generation Israeli-American descendant of Holocaust survivors, Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron always have been and always will be inexorably linked. Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, recalls the fate of our grandparents, who died as helpless victims. A week later, we mark Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Memorial Day, and the fate of their children and grandchildren, who fought courageously and died, not as victims but as heroes.
As an Israeli American born in Philadelphia, I went one Wednesday with my grandmother to the synagogue to mourn her loss on Yom HaShoah. And the next Wednesday, I went with my father to the Jewish community center to mourn his loss on Yom HaZikaron. Her loss was her entire family — her husband and child included — murdered by hatred and anti-Semitism of the most vicious kind. His loss was his fellow soldiers in an army of Jews fighting for their cherished homeland.
This year, my 97-year-old grandmother died. As a Holocaust survivor living in the United States, she never saw a contradiction between the Zionism that burned in her soul and the choice she made to live a Jewish life in the United States. As evidence of such, she kept a photo with her at all times of all three of her grandsons proudly dressed in Israel Defense Forces (IDF) uniforms. They were born and raised in America but chose to serve in the IDF.
Imagine her sense of victory as she recalled the helplessness and horror of the Holocaust, and gazed at three young men, strong and passionate, dressed in the uniform of a Jewish country. For my grandmother, every time she saw the Israeli flag waving next to the stars and stripes of the American flag, that was her greatest victory over the Holocaust.
Every year, thousands of people converge at Rancho Park for the Celebrate Israel festival that marks Israel’s Independence Day (Yom HaAtzmaut). I’m one of the organizers of the event. It’s where these different strands of my identity come together, literally. For me, every time I see a little kid sitting on his father’s shoulders at the festival, waving Israeli and American flags, that is the moment when I know who I am as an Israeli, as an American, as a Jew.
Will that kid end up volunteering in the IDF like my brothers and I did? Probably not.
Will that kid become active on his college campus, defending Israel and fighting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement? Maybe.
Will that kid go on a Birthright trip and fall in love with Israel? I hope so.
Yom HaAtzmaut is our opportunity to say to the young generation, to the boys and girls sitting on our shoulders, “Look at what we did! Not 3,000 years ago, but just two generations ago. Look at what we’ve accomplished together as a nation. We made the desert bloom. We defied the odds. We survived and thrived.”
Hold your head up high. Sing. Dance. Rejoice. You are Jewish.
Im tirtzu ein zo hagaddah. If you will it, it is no dream.
So I hope to see you all, with your kids on your shoulders, waving our flags, on May 7 at the Celebrate Israel festival in Rancho Park.
For me, there is no better place than the Israel Independence Day festival to feel Jewish and Israeli.
They are, in fact, one and the same.
Erez Goldman is the Los Angeles Regional Director of the Israeli American Council, which produces the annual Celebrate Israel festival at Rancho Park.