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Monday, July 28, 2014

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Something of great moment

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Children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren have been born to the men and women who were young adults in 1948.

We, their children, look at the black-and-white photos they stashed in shoe boxes or in brown paper shopping bags, or pasted neatly in photo albums and try to imagine who our parents were when they were young, much younger even than we are today as we look at, inspect, examine and stare at the fading snapshots that are the little, precious pieces of our family’s history.

Those young adults, in the full vigour of their strength and drive to establish a home and a family, would have likely had to pay around $8,000 for an “average” sized house in Canada. Their non-luxury car would have cost some $1,500 and they would have probably had a household income - if only one of the spouses was working which, of course, was the norm rather than the exception in 1948 – close to $2,500. 

Many, if not most, of the young Jewish Canadian men would have likely served in World War II, which ended only three years earlier. Canadian Jews enlisted in higher relative numbers than any other self-identifying ethnic group in the country to fight the Nazis. After World War II, many of those very same young men and women went to British-ruled Mandatory Palestine to fight for, help bring about and protect a sovereign Jewish state. 

For the vast majority of Jews on Earth in 1948, the establishment of a Jewish state was the very breath they breathed in personal relevance and communal commitment.

No cause was more urgent.

No cause was more important.

No cause more clearly, more poignantly, more emphatically spoke to the rest of the world on behalf of those young adults – our parents – of what it meant to be a Jew and a humane, caring, justice-seeking human being in 1948. They had neither the time nor the inclination to try to “understand the meaning” of events in Europe from 1933 to 1945. 

They did what they could, wherever they were, to ensure the tiny, nascent Jewish state would live. 

War had effectively been launched against the Jews of Palestine after Nov. 29, 1947, when the United Nations voted to partition Mandatory Palestine into two states: one for the Jews and one for the Arabs. The weight of international opinion was that the Jewish community in Palestine would not survive the impending onslaught of the combined regional Arab armies. Indeed the State Department of the United States was actively trying to undo the partition vote. The situation seemed bleak, if not hopeless for the courageous handful of Jews in Palestine.

In his autobiography, the inimitably eloquent Abba Eban, the head of Israel’s delegation to the UN in 1948, deftly captured the mood of the times.

“The first stages of the war seemed to bode ill for Israel’s cause. The danger came from the north, where Syrian Lebanese, Iraqi and Jordanian armies planned to move on Haifa and capture its port and refineries. Meanwhile, the Egyptians attacked along the coast while the remnants of the Arab Liberation Army harassed Jerusalem and assaulted Jewish settlements in the rest of the country. And the ring was growing tighter around the new city of Jerusalem.” 

The gritty defenders of the Jewish state repulsed the attackers from the north and from the south. But they could not save the Jewish quarter of the Old City. The Jordanian army captured the Old City, expelled the Jews, destroyed the synagogues and desecrated the countless markers and vestiges of Jewish life in Jerusalem. For the first time in more than a millennium, the Jewish presence in the ancient city of Jerusalem ceased to exist. That presence, however, would be once again restored 17 years later in 1967.

It is vital that we recall to mind these events of “merely” 65 years ago. 

It is more vital still, to recall them to the minds of our children and they, in turn, to their children. 

We must ensure that those events of 65 years ago and the very long line of events, of which they were part and which provide historical and theological context, repose deeply and forever in the collective memory of our people.

On the fifth day of Iyar 1948 (May 14/15), the Jewish People proclaimed their right to our own state. It was a variation of the theme enshrined by the psalmist who wrote, “We shall not die, but live.”

“The hour of choice had come and it had been seized,” Eban wrote. “No matter what ensued, something of great moment had been enacted of which future Jewish generations would never cease to speak and dream.”

For all time.

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