Dedicated with great love and respect to the memory of my rav, teacher, and friend, Rabbi Amnon Haramati, a”h, who, despite being declared dead while fighting for Israel in its War of Independence, survived by Hashem’s grace and went on with his perfect faith to become one of the great Torah teachers of the ages.
On Saturday, November 29, 1947, a 2,000-year-old dream became reality when the UN General Assembly voted on Resolution 181 and adopted a plan to partition the British Mandate into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. Although Israel celebrates Yom HaAtzma’ut, its Independence Day, on the 5th of Iyar – which fell on May 14th in 1948, when the new Jewish state was formally declared – the UN vote was considered by many at the time as marking the rebirth of a Jewish state.
My parents, who were strictly Orthodox, joined many others in keeping their radios on that Shabbat, and I can still remember my father’s eyes watering whenever he described his emotions when the announcement of the final 33-13 vote (with 10 abstentions) came over the radio. The historic vote was followed with unmatched excitement by Jews around the world, and news of the vote brought tens of thousands of people out onto the streets to dance and celebrate the great moment.
Many believing Jews contemplated the birth of Israel in messianic terms as reshit semichat geulatenu (“the initial sprouting of our ultimate redemption”) and, indeed, this is the very phrase used in the Tefilla L’Shalom Medinat Yisrael (Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel) that many shuls recite every Shabbat.
One such Jewish leader was Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, then serving as head of the Central Committee of the Mizrachi Union of New York. On 28 Kislev (December 11), 1947, two weeks after the UN vote, “the Rav” (as he was known among his students) wrote a stunningly beautiful letter, shown here, waxing poetic about the coming birth of Israel – e.g., “trickle of morning that is dripping over the peaks of the Judean Hills;” what an incredible image! – and summoning New York’s rabbinical leadership to a Zionist meeting in New York:
To our Brother Rabbis in the Greater New York area:
We stand at this crucial hour on the threshold of a prominent and critical historical era which has been awaited since ancient days. Because of battles between the few builders of the land and her sons against the many enemies of Hashem, the sounds of clashing swords and the voices of heroism rise and penetrate a wondrous vision of the Kingdom of Israel. It is incumbent upon us to give thanks and praise to the Rock of Israel and its Savior for giving us life and maintaining us to this time – when there exists the ability to take part in the building of the land, birthplace, and mighty historical creation that will turn into complete salvation through Mashiach Hashem [G-d’s Messiah].
Together with a happy and trembling feeling that will fill all the chambers of our hearts to greet the rising trickle of morning that is dripping over the peaks of the Judean Hills, we feel an ethical obligation to come out with a lofty call to all the byways of the land and particularly to charedi Jews whose souls were from ancient days entwined with the holiness of the chosen land and who prayed for its redemption all their days, to consolidate and unify into a single group to enlarge the spirit of the Torah and tradition in our renewed state. We have the duty to expend every possible effort to establish the rules of the Torah in the life of the state and to emboss the Torah’s image of the face of the Yishuv.
In connection with what we are saying, we call our friends the rabbis, old and young, to a meeting on Tuesday, 3 Tevet 1947 (December 16, 1947) at 6 p.m. at the Hotel McAlphin, 34th Street and Broadway, in New York, in which will also participate our great Rav Meir Berlin, may Hashem protect him. The goal of the meeting will be to discuss very seriously all the state’s spiritual problems.
Rav Soloveitchik (1903-1993), a descendant of the Lithuanian Soloveitchik rabbinic dynasty who further developed the “Brisker method” of Talmudic analysis, was the seminal figure of Modern Orthodox Judaism in 20th-century America. Advocating a synthesis between Torah scholarship and western, secular scholarship, and serving as rosh yeshiva of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, he ordained 2,000 rabbis in almost half a century and he served as mentor and role model for tens of thousands of Jews, both as a Talmudic scholar and as a religious leader.
A central figure in the religious Zionist movement, Rav Berlin (later Bar-Ilan, 1880-1949) is perhaps best known for organizing a committee of scholars after the birth of Israel to examine the legal problems of the new Jewish state in light of Jewish law; initiating and organizing the publication of the Talmudic Encyclopedia (1947); and for Bar Ilan University, founded by the American Mizrachi movement and named in his honor.
As secretary of the world Mizrachi movement (1911), he coined the famous phrase “Eretz Yisrael l’Am Yisrael al Pi Torat Yisrael – The Land of Israel to the Nation of Israel in accordance with the Torah of Israel.”
Shown here is a great historical rarity, a Mizrachi poster announcing the birth of the State of Israel in which passion, exhilaration, delight, uncontrolled anticipation, and messianic dreams permeate every word:
Hashem has planted salvation amongst us; the dawn of our redemption and the birth of our Medinat Yisrael on the land of Eretz Yisrael has been decreed.
—- BLESSED BE THE REDEEMER OF ISRAEL! —-
The 15th of Kislev, the day of the great news, will be declared for us an eternal holiday because Hashem has remembered His nation and His land. The Mizrachi celebrates the ultimate success of the diligent effort spanning countless generations to gather loyal and true Jews under the flag of Zion and to bring them to live amongst us and to sustain our State in our Holy Land. Great is the Day of Freedom and great is the joy and celebration. We dare not forget our great responsibility; we began with a mitzvah, and it is our duty now to be diligent with it in great purity.
WE CALL UPON all the “sleepy ones” of the Nation to gather their resources and to unite with a single-minded faith under the flag our State and to serve as a shield to all who seek refuge under its shade.
WE CALL UPON our friends in Mizrachi to stand with all our lives and all our goods [echoing the language of the Shema] to serve Medinat Yisrael.
WE CALL UPON all true Jews and upon every single individual that has faith in Hashem in his heart: prepare as one with us to the strengthening of Medinat Yisrael and to the life of the Torah of Israel upon Holy Land.
BE PREPARED FOR TOIL AND SACRIFICE!
AND ATOP OUR JOY AT OUR INDEPENDENCE, WE MUST ELEVATE THE MEMORY OF JERUSALEM THE HOLY CITY, OUR CAPITAL CITY FOREVER. NEVER SHALL WE FORGET THE VOW THAT OUR FATHERS SWORE:
IF I FORGET THEE, O JERUSALEM, MAY MY RIGHT HAND LOSE ITS CUNNING!
And we pray to “The Rock of Israel” and his Redeemer for the day of our complete redemption, and may our eyes witness the coming of the Moshiach and the reinstitution of our Bet Hamikdash, may it come speedily in our days. Amen.
In this joint letter to Jewish leaders around the world, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Halevi Herzog and Rishon L’Tzion Ben Zion Uziel urge the Jews to gather to thank G-d for the announcement:
To all the Rabbis, heads of communities, councils and localities, and synagogue Gabbaim
Peace and blessings.
Please advise your congregation to gather at the synagogue immediately upon the declaration of the Day of Victory (morning or evening) and to arrange a “prayer of thanksgiving” in accordance with the order here.
With blessings of the Torah and the Land and with prayers for the imminent complete redemption of Israel
The Chief Rabbis of Israel
If there is insufficient time, it is possible to omit several hymns and verses, but make certain to recite the memorial service and the prayer of thanksgiving.
Exhibited here is a May 27, 1948 telegram from Hapoel HaMizrachi offering congratulations on Israel achieving statehood:
During this historic time of the declaration of Medinat Yisrael, we send our blessings: may the State of Israel live! In the dawn of the fulfillment of our prophets’ prophesies, may we merit to witness their completion.
Shown here are two original newspaper photographs of the joyous celebrations accompanying the announcement of the birth of Israel. The verso of the first, captioned “Dancing in the Street in New York,” reads:
Under the flag of the newly-proclaimed Jewish state are these joyful celebrators. The Star of David flag flies beside the American flag from the Jewish Agency building following a happy ceremony yesterday. Watching from the window is Chaim Shertok, the 14-year old son of Moshe Shertok, foreign minister of the Zionist state.
Moshe Shertok, who later changed his name to Sharett, went on to serve as Israel’s second prime minister (1954-1955).
The verso of the second, captioned “Joy Under the Flag of Israel,” reads:
Washington: Group of young Jews dances the traditional “Hurra” (sic) after the flag of the newborn republic of Israel was raised at the Jewish Agency headquarters here, May 14th. President Truman announced formal recognition by the U.S. of the new Jewish State in Palestine.
As we celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, may we always reflect on the raw emotion of Jews and Zionists in 1947-1948 as the reality of the wonder of hatikvah shnat alpayim – the 2,000-year hope – unfolded before their eyes; may we always experience anew, and pass on to our children, the joy of the inexplicable miracle of the return of a people to its ancestral homeland that we merited to experience in our lifetimes; and may every Jew find his or her way to seeing the hand of G-d in Jewish history and treasuring the gift of Israel that he has given to us. Am Yisrael chai!