I have danced in Rabin Square! That’s a major happening in Tel Aviv the night of Yom HaAtzmaut, Independence Day in Israel. I have bounced my noise-making hammer off my fellow dancers all around me. That is also a major happening on Independence Day. I have no idea what the symbolic meaning of those plastic hammers is, but they are everywhere on Independence Day. The day before, I have stood silently by my car in the middle of a busy roadway. For miles and miles I could see the cars stopped and the people standing at attention. They were answering the call of remembrance signaled by the sirens heard all over the State of Israel. We stood to honor all those heroes who had fallen while defending this land of freedom, redemption, and incredible opportunity. Yes, I have danced many times in Rabin Square to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, but this Independence Day, it is different.
People cannot choose their life span. I was lucky (or should I say unlucky) enough to be born into the most incredible history in the story of mankind. I first saw the light of day in St. Louis Mo, in the year, 1936. The great world-wide depression, of which I was totally unaware, was ravishing mankind. We were middle class, Midwest Americans. There were members of my family who were a lot poorer than us. We were witnessing the sun setting on a semi-sane civilization, and the rising darkness of the insanity of World War II. Of course, the greatest act of insanity was the attempt to annihilate the Jewish people and Judaism.
If this wasn’t enough history, the world was to witness the rebirth of the State of Israel, just a few short years away. The Day of Independence, Yom HaAtzmaut exploded, literally, the moment that David Ben Gurion declared the birth of the State from that historic Hall in Tel Aviv. Personally, I was almost blissfully unaware of all of these events. It wasn’t until the shock of the Yom Kippur war that I was thrust, kicking and screaming, into the tumultuous history of my people. I was in Israel, almost by accident, in the waning days of hostility of the 1973 war. I was so struck by the intensity of emotion of my own Jewish discovery that I have returned 69 times to the land of my cultural and spiritual birth. This land of Eretz Israel. Now, 37 years later, and with the help of the JNF, my life has changed forever.
So why is this year, 2011, different from all other years? My son is about to experience the searing emotion of self-discovery that will be far greater than my own. Yes, besides my 3 daughters and nine grandchildren, I have an 18-year-old son. Can you believe this old man has a son who is just graduating high school? I have three grandchildren older than him. So what is this great discovery that he is experiencing? Today, Max is in Poland for the March of the Living. This is a program that has been an outstanding success for 23 years. This year there are 7,000 Jewish high school seniors, and hundreds of Holocaust survivors from all over the world trekking to Auschwitz and other slave labor camps in Poland. The interaction between the survivors and the students has been truly life changing. It is not lost on the kids that they are being led by members of the last generation of Jewish survivors. I am reminded of the line in the Passover Seder that reminds us that we are the “the last generation of slaves and the first generation of free men”. On May 2nd the 7,000 kids and survivors assembled in Auschwitz for the famous death march to the killing camp of Birkeneau. The kids understood that this was a daily occurrence during the height of the Shoah. But Birkenau was not the final stop for our kids. Not this time, not on the The March of the Living. From Poland, the young students fly to Tel Aviv to celebrate Israeli Independence day. In a few hours they will experience the transition from the blood-soaked earth of the slaughterhouses of Poland to the vibrant free soil of Eretz Israel. This is truly a journey from slavery to freedom. A new chapter of Exodus is being written by the Jewish people, and my son is there.
And so once more I will dance in Rabin Square. But this time it will be my Son, Max, who will wield the plastic hammer noisemakers, and will stand at attention to sing the Hatikvah. It will be Max who will dance at Rabin Square to secure the future of the Chosen People. Could a father feel more pride than this? Am Yisrael Chai. The People of Israel live, and from generation to generation we will give each other strength. Amen!!
Bud Levin is a Vice President of Jewish National Fund.