Today is Yom Ha'atzma'ut, or rather, the official government sanctioned celebration of Israel's birthday, despite the fact that yesterday (the 5th of Iyar) was really Yom Ha'atzma'ut.
The big question on everyone's mind is (pretty presumptuous of me to suggest this) - what's your take on Yom Ha'atzma'ut with your fancy-shmancy "Grey" hashkafa nonsense?
My answer: it's complicated, as most things in Judaism are, for one reason or another. I honestly see both sides of the discussion, and fully agree with neither. No surprise there, right?
I can identify with the perspective of the "white movement," or the Tzionim, that Yom Ha'atzma'ut is certainly a day that is momentous in history, without a doubt something that is worth showing hakaras hatov to our Father in Heaven for this tremendous gift in returning possession of our ancestral promised land to our hands. The signaling of the start of our final, prophesied redemption is also just a little hard to ignore (take that, naysayers).
I can also identify with the perspective of the "black movement," or the Chareidim/Yeshivish, who say "what's the big deal about a bunch of old Russian Jewish men with Yiddish accents signing a piece of paper?" (an authentic quote from a rabbi of that persuasion which I once heard). The bigger miracle is certainly the fact that we survived the war that broke out within hours of the signing of famous declaration of independence. Why is the political aspect of the day so celebrated, and not akin to Yom Yerushalayim, the nisim geluyim that saved our very existence in that homeland? Also, granted it's a big thing we got Israel back, but saying hallel, and with a bracha? Does anyone really know halacha nowadays?
So, as usually, I take a little bit of this hashkafa, a little bit of that hashkafa, mix 'em all together, and get (you guessed it) some Shades of Grey.
To be frank, I didn't even really know what Yom Ha'atzma'ut was until I went to yeshiva in Israel for Shana Aleph. Really. No clue. The very under publicized event the local JCC put on each year was so low key I don't remember ever thinking about it enough to attend (though I may have, on one or two occasions, but they clearly weren't memorable). The religious/yeshivish element that I had grown frum with made zero mention of the day or its significance, so I literally knew next to nothing.
Then came Israel. Suddenly, I was informed that Yom Ha'atzma'ut exists, and not only that, it may have been a part of my religious observance that I was unaware of and thus not fulfilling properly! If that isn't a kick-in-the-pants for a ba'al teshuva, I don't know what is! It was almost (but not quite) like saying there was this little holiday called Purim that I had somehow missed when I was learning and growing in my halachic practice.
For the record: I knew what Purim was and had celebrated it many times even before I was religious, by the way. I wasn't born in Huppitsville.
So what did I do? I followed my Rosh Yeshiva, of course (I've mentioned I'm a pretty straight-laced, go-by-the-rules kind of guy). I said hallel with everyone else (without a bracha), didn't say tachanun, listened to the live band we hired, went to the barbeque in the park during the day. It was all so amazing and eye-opening. My Shana Bet chevrusa, who was a lot like me, but more to the right, was slightly begrudging in his participation in the festivities (he danced once and then went back inside to learn during our nighttime concert), but he didn't go to Mea Shearim and sit with ashes on his forehead.
But, I can hear the viewpoint telling us, "What are you celebrating anyway? The medina is irreligious, they basically destroyed the frumkite of the Yemenites, and it still is anti-Torah and mitzvah observance in many ways." All of those accusations have truth in them, but there is also a LOT of good that has been accomplished by this "krum" medina of ours.
There is more Torah being learned there than ever before - perhaps ever in our history in our homeland. The chesed done by groups like Zaka/Magen Dovid Adom in Israel itself and around the world is such a Kiddush HaShem (see the headlines and video about Haiti if you want some recent examples). Also, in general, the world at large hasn't attempted any full-scale deportations, pogroms, or anything of that sort as of late - and the main reason is because the IDF would be all over them before they could blink. For all the complaints and loshon hara/motzi shem rah spoken about the IDF, if they weren't there, all those ideologically motivated Satmar Chassidim (not to mention the rambunctious jerks of Naturei Karta) would be up to their noses in their own blood from terrorist attacks carried out by their "allies" against the state (sorry to get graphic).
So is the State of Israel a good, even a great thing? Absolutely. Is it perfect? Definitely not. But as Rabbi J.J. Schachter mentioned tonight at YU's Yom HaZikaron/Yom Ha'atzma'ut tekkes, that's not how life works. Nothing starts off perfect, and things can always (and do) improve.
So let's all be thankful, and celebrate in our own way, whatever that may be. What you simply cannot do is let Yom Ha'atzma'ut go by totally ignored, thereby failing to acknowledge all the wonderful things that we now have because Medinat Yisrael exists. This goes double, even triple for anyone who went to yeshiva/seminary for a year or two, since that would never have happened (and where would be we be without those life changing experiences?). Even if you celebrate by not saying tachanun or just going to a local kosher restaurant with your family and say shir ha'ma'alos on bentsching - since you only say shir ha'ama'alos on days you don't say tachanun - for crying out loud, do SOMETHING to recognize this momentous occasion in our people's history.
P.S. I am not such a fan of this moving the day of observance for Yom Ha'atzma'ut. I totally agree with the reason - to prevent chilul Shabbos, which is certainly admirable. But if the holiday is religious, then you can't just move the day of celebration. That is comparable to what the reform temple did in my hometown when they once moved Shavuos (which they keep as one day, to be "frum" like those living in Israel - a great irony for anyone who knows the reform movements very anti-Israel origins) from Thursday night to Friday night since it was was more "convenient" for their congregants.
I'm also a bit annoyed that I didn't know it was a "moved over" year and accidentally said tachanun yesterday morning at shacharis. The gabbai announced just before krias haTorah that we were taking a 5-minute break wherein you could say tachanun or hallel quietly, whatever your preference. I thought it was actually Yom HaZikaron and had never heard of anyone saying hallel on Yom HaZikaron, and thus presumed he was confused. I corrected myself by not saying tachanun at mincha. What to today will be a whole different story...
So if you're in YU/Stern, maybe I'll see you at the festivities in Tenzer Garden, though I won't really be running around proclaiming "it's me, Shades of Grey!"
Chag Sameach...? Chag Sameach!!!