Celebration & Tragedy, Atzma’ut and Nakba
from Rabbi David
Dear Kittah Hey and Kittah Vav,
I am writing you a letter about Israel and Palestine that is more than about that. It’s about one of
the most difficult things to carry in one’s head: holding two things in your mind that are both true
and also seem to contradict each other.
I am talking about the connection that many Jewish people have to the land of Israel and the
connection Palestinian people have to the land of Palestine. I am also talking about celebrating a
day when Jews could finally have a country of their own. And I am talking about grieving on a day
when Palestinians lost much of their land and many of their homes and villages.
The land of Israel is the same land geographically as the land of Palestine. Two names for the same
location. The day of celebration we call Yom HaAtzma’ut (Israel Independence Day) is the same
day the Palestinians call the Nakba (the Disaster).
Here’s the tough part for me. My personal belief is that it is right to see the day as a celebration,
and it is also right to see it as a tragedy too.
About 100 years ago, many Jews were looking to be free in their own country. And at the same
time Palestinians were also looking for a chance for independence in their own land.
We celebrate returning to the homeland
which Jewish people were savagely deprived
of 2000 years ago, and it was a great moment
when Jews could feel that they were safe in a
country where we were no longer to be
treated as outsiders or second class citizens.
Whether this homecoming was best
accomplished by having a Jewish state was
debated then and people are still discussing
it. Each of us will have our own opinions
For the Arab people of Palestine, that had
been their land for over a thousand years. But
during much of that time, they were ruled
harshly by rulers from other countries. When Israel was recognized by the U.N. in 1948, for
Palestinians it was a day of defeat – for they felt that the land for which they had struggled for
their independence was now a little less than half the land that they had expected.
I cannot in this short letter go through all the history until now from 1948 when Israel/Palestine
was divided into Israel and Palestine. Today, the border between Israel and Palestine is disputed.
Israel controls to some degree the areas that would be a Palestinian state. Leaders of Israel and
the leaders of the Palestinians have not always worked wisely in making peace with each other
and deciding how to determine things like their borders and how they should make each other feel
But as a rabbi in Kehilla, my job in this letter is to tell you how I personally struggle with the idea
of two people who are correct when they love exactly the same land that they call by different
names. I see all sides as having made mistakes and I see these mistakes as coming from both their
fears and their hopes.
I am not writing this to you to tell you that you must feel exactly the same way that I do. But I do
want to share with you what I believe is our responsibility now. I believe that we, as Jews—for
whom the State of Israel was established—have a special responsibility to participate in trying to
enable both Israelis and Palestinians to be free and secure. I also personally believe that Israel,
being more powerful than the Palestinians, has more options to help resolve the problems that
Whatever positions you would take, I would want people to avoid thinking in terms of bad guys
and good guys. I want everybody to realize that people on both sides have suffered. I want us all to
remember the fears that each side feels. I want us to remember that all people have a right to be
So on Israeli Independence Day and on Nakba day, I celebrate as a Jew, and I also grieve as a Jew.
But also on that day, my thoughts turn toward a future when I hope that the people of Israel and
Palestine will share that special land peacefully and in a way that secures everyone’s desire to be
free in their country. Od Yavo Shalom, Rah yiji Salaam.