An Israeli response to the Matan Neuman’s plea to allow UCLA’s pro-Israel community to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut, and the important concepts it conveniently overlooked
I appreciate and agree wholeheartedly with Matan Neuman’s words regarding Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebrations: the Israeli community should be able to celebrate this event without any political connotations. However, just like the overwhelming majority of the pro-Israel community at UCLA, this submission failed to recognize a very relevant day on the Israeli calendar.
In Israel, Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Independence Day) is preceded by Yom Ha’Zikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for the country’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror. This order of events is no coincidence: we can only rejoice over the independence of our nation after having acknowledged the loss of life we have faced. It is always very difficult for Israelis to shift from a day of memorial ceremonies and speeches alongside a national moment of silence to an evening filled with Independence Day celebrations, street parties and concerts. This difficulty, or even some ounce of gratitude for those who gave their lives to build our country, or who paid the price of living in a war-ridden nation, is not observed on campus by the majority of the pro-Israel community.
Simply looking at numbers, at least 100 if not 200 people participated in the Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebration on campus last Monday. Two days later, no more than 20 people, organizers included, showed up to the Yom Ha’Zikaron memorial ceremony Wednesday night at Hillel. To say that I’m embarrassed by the pro-Israel community is an understatement. Waving a flag, dancing to “Golden Boy,” and singing “Ha’Tikvah” in the middle of Bruin Plaza is easy, but recognizing that people — kids our age — died for the country we love to celebrate is much harder. Furthermore, judging by the lack of action from our pro-Israel community, it is not even worth the trouble for many. To Neuman and the enthusiastic supporters of his submission, you’ve overlooked a fundamental part of Israel’s independence.
Make no mistake: Israel exists by no “miracle.” If not for the deaths of 23,447 Israeli soldiers and civilians who have guided the path to our freedom today, the state would not exist.
Soldiers are drafted into the Israel Defense Forces at the age of 18 and are given life-threatening commands. Just as we all went off to UCLA at the age of 18, these young men and women went off to war. Just as we go sometimes home to visit family and friends from high school to take a break from exams and the stress of life in college, these men and women go home to take a break from military operations and the realities and horrors of war. There are 23,477 soldiers and innocent civilians who will never come home. We cannot overlook their sacrifices.
It is this very culture that ignores the gravity of human life given for the sake of a nation, which has become dangerous to the pro-Israel community as a whole. Perhaps it is the norm set by American society, that Memorial Day should be characterized by mattress sales and beach bonfires rather than memorial ceremonies and visits to military cemeteries, that allows us to behave this way as a community. Regardless, things cannot stay as they are on this campus.
In contrast to Neuman, my plea is not to the campus as a whole, but rather to the portion of Bruins who identify, like I do, as “pro-Israel.” I expect to see a shift in the concept of Israeli Independence Day within our community. Celebrating Israel’s existence without recognizing the sons and daughters who’ve perished is not just a mistake, but an embarrassment to the nation we insist on celebrating.