'Our grandparents established the state. But this first voice no longer exists'
There were times when Oranit Kristal-Shalit's family celebrated Independence Day differently from the way it was celebrated in other homes. "On the eve of Remembrance Day a few families would get together and celebrate a kind of 'seder,'" she recalls. "That was when I was in elementary school, in the early 1970s. One of my parents' friends put together a booklet of old Israeli songs and texts, and we'd sit at a long table for a festive meal and read the passages and sing. The atmosphere was a festive, like on Passover. After the meal, we'd go to Malchei Yisrael Square to see the fireworks."
Kristal-Shalit remembers those seders she celebrated with her family as a highlight of the year, especially Natan Alterman's poem "Magash Hakesef" (The Silver Platter) which they would read aloud with pathos. "This event affected me deeply during my childhood," she says. Over the years, she held on to a copy of the booklet with the poem, whose pages are now fraying and crumbling. When she became a mother and her daughters grew bigger, she didn't just settle for nostalgia. Last year, Kristal-Shalit contacted a friend, Michal Aflalo, who works in the research and development department of the Community Centers Company, and suggested reviving the Independence Day Seder. Aflalo was enthusiastic.
The idea of putting together a textual Israeli-Jewish framework that would imbue Independence Day with renewed meaning fell on receptive ears at the Community Centers Company, at the unit that deals with Jewish renewal in the community and linking different groups to Jewish tradition. "We thought it would be right to start a tradition of studying and discussing Independence Day, to anchor this day to meaning, so it wouldn't just be a day for barbecues," says Aflalo.
Last year, Aflalo and Kristal-Shalit decided, together with the families of some friends, to celebrate their first Independence Day Seder together. The families took the matter seriously. They put out blue-and-white tablecloths, lit candles in a menorah that is an exact replica of the menorah next to the Knesset, decorated the table with a Star of David and toothpicks with blue and white flags. At the end of the meal, they sang the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah.
"Why not? A little national pride," says Kristal-Shalit, in response to a question asking whether such sanctification of symbols wasn't a bit excessive. This year they plan to repeat the seder, along with a "haggadah" prepared by Aflalo and Yaakov Maoz, of the Community Centers Company.
A tradition of the kibbutzim
The tradition of holding seders on Independence Day is known mainly from the kibbutzim. Over the years, several Independence Day haggadahs have been printed, for example, the one printed for the Israel Defense Forces by Yoel Rappel. There were also earlier haggadahs by Levine Kipnis and Abba Kovner ("Sharsheret Hagvura").
The haggadah is divided into 12 sections based on the values and sayings in the Declaration of Independence and is meant to be appropriate for different communities, and for children as well. The first section: longing for the Land of Israel; second section: Zionism; third section: the establishment of the State; fourth section: immigration and absorption, and so on. One section is devoted to social justice. Every section contains passages to be read and songs or poems. In the section on longings for the Land of Israel, for example, Psalm 137 is quoted, which opens with the words: "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and we wept when we remembered Zion," but also features Arik Einstein's song "Yoshev B'San Francisco Al Hamayim" (Sitting in San Francisco on the water).
"It's hard to explain why this event moves me so much," says Kristal-Shalit. "Beyond the childhood dream, I think that today such a seder, which gives added meaning to the holiday, is even more important." She explains that for her parents' generation and for her own generation as well, living in the state was a given. "Our grandparents established the state and also told us about it. But this first voice no longer exists. I feel that it's critical to instill in our children the story of the establishment of the state and the reason for our existence here."
Her partner, Ami Shalit, adds that there is meaning in learning that is done using a tradition that repeats itself. He says that when he was a boy, he heard the stories about the establishment of the state from people who took part in the fighting, whereas his children no longer have that option. "My father was born in Naharayim and was a fighter in the Palmach. He lived the legacy of the battle, the legacy of the Palmach. As a boy, there was no place in Israel we didn't visit, and everywhere we went, we met people who had fought and you heard the stories from them. There were also games, and stamps that instilled the legacy in us. Today it's all very far removed from the young generation," he says. "The thing that's important to me is teaching your children," adds Kristal-Shalit. "The education system cannot be responsible for this content, which parents must teach their children. I feel we are still in the middle of an existential war, there are Qassams in Sderot, and here, too, when there are warnings of terrorist attacks, you can't go out to the mall. But it's important to me to show my children the link to the past, to instill in them national pride and explain the reason why we're here to them."
The members of the group plan this week to raise a glass of wine in a toast during each section of the haggadah, to light imaginary torches and even to recite the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel which appears at the end of the booklet, the same prayer that is stirring debate in various religious communities. "There is here a kind of ceremony that is Jewish, but not religious. National, but not nationalist," says Aflalo. "There are religious elements here because the State of Israel is a Jewish state, but that's only a recommendation."