Wednesday, May 5th | 23 Iyyar 5781

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April 15, 2021 10:08 am

This Israeli Independence Day Celebrates More Than One Kind of Freedom

avatar by Israel Nitzan

Opinion

People watch a fireworks display kicking off celebrations for Israel’s Independence Day, marking the 73rd anniversary of the creation of the state, in Tel Aviv, Israel April 14, 2021. REUTERS/Corinna Kern

As the State of Israel celebrates its 73rd Independence Day, there is no denying that the number one event of the past year has been the fight to contain and defeat the COVID-19 pandemic that swept through Israel and the entire world. It remains our most immediate challenge today.

Thankfully, the pain of the losses connected to COVID-19 is not our only memory. This past year must also be remembered for the way the people of Israel worked harder than ever before in the face of a health crisis. Those efforts not only helped Israel turn the corner against the virus, but also solidified our bonds with the United States and the rest of the world in ways never seen before.

Whether it was leading the way in its national vaccination efforts, developing treatments for the virus, or providing aid to dozens of other nations fighting COVID-19, this has been a unique year for boosting Israel’s long-held commitment to working with other nations to share technological and public health resources. In a year that was also marked by the historic Abraham Accord peace agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, it was especially gratifying to include many of our new Arab and Muslim friends to the list of those Israel was able to work with in dealing with this pandemic.

Of course, our efforts to fight the coronavirus have also solidified our connections with our own Jewish family in the United States and with all of our American friends. It has been truly heartbreaking that so many months have passed where travel to and from Israel and the US has been shut down or seriously restricted. For now, we continue to work very hard in hope of reopening the skies very soon. We are yearning to restore the irreplaceable experience of visiting Israel in person and again making that a reality for all of us.

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We can still reflect on how Israel played a key role in joining with the United States and so many other nations in the combined effort to fight COVID-19. This give-and-take process has reinvigorated Israel’s commitment to the ideals of “Tikkun Olam,” or “repairing the world,” that have become so central to the larger Jewish communities in America. Others call it “social impact,” but the idea behind it binds us all together. We all must use our skills and tools to improve the lives of all people everywhere. The State of Israel and America’s Jews know that no nation can truly celebrate its independence if its freedom does not pay dividends for the world at large.

That commitment went well beyond the coronavirus battle, as we learned so much from each other this year. The Consulate General of Israel in New York was proud to arrange several forums this year where diverse groups of experts came together to discuss new approaches for cleaning and sustaining the environment, addressing youth homelessness, and dealing with the negative effects attributed to social distancing such as emotional stress and the scourge of domestic violence. COVID-19 impacted and often changed the nature of how we approached each of these priorities, but they remain priorities just the same. Israel, the American Jewish community, and so many other communities in the United States have now only intensified our common commitment to the entire world.

At the same time, these efforts reminded us that the bipartisan and special relationship between Israel and America is alive and well. Neither a pandemic nor political changes can break that bond.

Even in years when the airports and borders aren’t shut down to stop the spread of a virus, the physical distance between us can overshadow that bond. Our joint efforts to keep all people safer over this past year are a strong example of our common goals and ideals.

So, this year we can still celebrate a strong, vibrant and secure democratic Jewish homeland. We can still celebrate our advancements in medical research, high technology, and water and energy sustainability. We can still celebrate our cultural achievements in dance, theater, art, film, and television. We can still celebrate our foreign policies and continuous expansion of friends throughout the world — especially in the Middle East.

Yom HaAtzmaut is a uniquely joyous day for Israelis and Jews all over the world. It marks the miraculous end of 2,000 years of oppression for our people. It celebrates the Jewish version of the very American ideal of self-determination. This year, Independence Day comes at a time when we are all closer to achieving liberty from the physical, economic, and social effects of a terrible pandemic. That’s the kind of freedom the entire world can join Israel in celebrating.

Yom HaAtzmaut Sameach!

Israel Nitzan is the Acting Consul General of Israel in New York.

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