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Israel at 75: A milestone and a crossroads

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Today is Yom Ha’atzmaut, the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding according to the Hebrew calendar. We’ll be rolling out special coverage through the English anniversary on May 14, and hosting the Israeli writer Etgar Keret for a conversation about this auspicious and fraught moment on May 4.


This company started sewing Israeli flags before the state was officially founded: Berman’s Flags and Embroidery began in 1947, as the country ramped up its fight for independence. The company’s hand-sewn flags have marked groundbreaking moments in Israeli history: One waved over the signing of the Abraham Accords. It manufactures flags for countries around the world as well as for Israeli municipalities, who require their flags to be made in Israel — not China, like so many Israeli flags on the market. Read the story ➤

Related: Israel’s flag has taken on new meaning as a symbol of the protests against the government’s proposed judicial overhaul that have gripped the country for months. “It’s a symbol that had been hijacked for way too long by the right,” Roy Rob, a graphic designer who splits his time between Israel and Brooklyn, told Ben Sales of the JTA. “Now it’s being democratized again.” Read the story ➤


Demonstrators protested in Tel Aviv Tuesday night. (Getty)

And here are three new Opinion essays for the anniversary:


Israel’s current crisis is a necessary step in the process of state-making: Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., says that when American Jews fret over Israel’s proposed judicial overhaul, they do so with an incomplete understanding of just how much the country has changed in 75 years. Its current reckoning, he argues, is a natural function of its rapid development and diversification. Now, as many citizens begin “to face the contradictions in Israeli society,” he sees the opportunity to build a stronger one. Read his essay ➤


What I wish I’d said to a non-Zionist member of Gen Z: When his college-age daughter’s best friend asked Rabbi Elliott Cosgrove why there is an Israeli flag on the bimah of his synagogue, he was caught flat-footed. In a new essay, he tries to convince her and other skeptical members of her generation that Israel is indeed core to Jewish identity today. “Israel is a deeply imperfect state,” he writes. “But given the choice of a sovereign and imperfect Israel or the moral purity of exiled victimhood, I would choose the former over the latter any day, and so should you.” Read his essay ➤


Have the protesters forgotten us in Gaza? Yousef Bashir, a Palestinian American author and graduate student, has watched the mass anti-government protests in Israel with mixed emotions. The term “Day of Resistance,” which used to signal a Palestinian street action against the Israeli occupation, now involves people waving Israeli flags in front of the Knesset building. “I support equal rights and fair representation,” Bashir writes, “but my sense tells me that they are protesting to protect their rights only.” Read his essay ➤


Check out all of our coverage of Israel’s 75th birthday.




Republican Jewish Coalition accuses President Biden of inaction amid rising antisemitism: An hour after Biden announced his reelection bid, the group said the president has been “derelict in his duty to keep Jewish Americans safe.” Democrats pushed back, pointing to Biden’s nomination of Deborah Lipstadt as antisemitism envoy and his recently announced plans for a “comprehensive” strategy to combat antisemitism. Doug Emhoff, the second gentleman, said on Tuesday that he has spent the past few months “on the frontlines pushing back against antisemitism and hate,” and that “this fight is far from over.” Read the story ➤


When Harry Belafonte said hamotzi with Zero Mostel: The actor, who died Tuesday at 96, starred in an oft-forgotten 1970 film, The Angel Levine, based on a short story by Bernard Malamud. Belafonte, playing the titular character, noshes on matzo brei and is frustrated that his Jewishness is questioned. “This frustration,” writes our PJ Grisar, “is one many Jews of color may identify with.” Read the story ➤


Related: Belafonte once boasted of being “the most popular Jew in America” because he helped popularize “Hava Nagila.” It was just one of many ways in which his life and career dovetailed with Judaism.




This program is presented with the generous support of David Berg Foundation. The symposium, which is organized in partnership with the National Library of Israel, is the first installment in a larger series of public symposia sponsored by the Center for Jewish History’s brand new Jewish Public History Forum.



Jews gather for a meal at the annual pilgrimage to the hometown of Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner. (Barnabas Horvath)

🐁  Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews descended on a small Hungarian town to mark the yahrtzeit this week of Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner, a leader believed to hold miracle powers of healing and cleaning. (His photo is thought to be an omen for keeping away mice.) (JTA)


🎵  A group of authors is calling on Austria to rewrite some of its state anthems, which were written by composers with Nazi allegiances. But critics are accusing them of “canceling history.” (Guardian)


🎤  And speaking of music and Nazis: A court ruled on Tuesday that a May 28 Roger Waters concert can go on, after the city of Frankfurt tried to cancel the show calling the former Pink Floyd frontman “one of the most widely known antisemites in the world.” The court said Rogers “did not glorify or relativise the crimes of the Nazis or identify with Nazi racist ideology.” The city may appeal. (JTA)


🏫  A swastika was carved into the ground near a grassy quad on the campus of Dartmouth University last week. A public menorah on the New Hampshire campus was vandalized in 2020. (The Dartmouth)


📺  The creators of Fauda, the hit Israeli series on Netflix, are putting the finishing touches on a new spy thriller about a Lebanese terrorist being hunted by the CIA and the Mossad. The show will debut May 19 on Showtime. (Deadline)


🎭  There’s going to be a new film adaptation of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. John Chu, who also made In The Heights and the upcoming Wicked, is directing. (Playbill)

What else we’re reading ➤  When a Holocaust survivor refused to send her child to another camp – a summer sleepaway camp … Muslim rideshare drivers improvise prayer spaces amid lack of relief stations in NYC … What it’s like to be an extra on the set of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

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Three of the Jewish liquidators who helped clean up Chernobyl. Left to right: Alexander Kalantirksy, Anatoly Kundish and Gregory Bargel. (Eetta Prince-Gibson)

On this day in history (1986): There was an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near the city of Pripyat in Ukraine. Jews have a long history in the region, and some Jewish workers were among the 800,000 “liquidators” sent to the site. We profiled three of them in 2018. “Eventually, the whole world knew about the disaster. But most people never really ask themselves who took care of it,” one said. “If we wouldn’t have cleaned up the reactor, the radiation would have spread.”

In honor of National South Dakota Day, we’ve got seven Jewish facts about the Mount Rushmore State. 





Our Yiddish editor, Rukhl Schaechter, teaches us how to say various words related to Israel in honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut. One is “crabapple.” Click on the video above to find out why. 


Thanks to Beth Harpaz, Sarah Nachimson and Talya Zax for contributing to today’s newsletter. You can reach the “Forwarding” team at



The post Israel at 75: A milestone and a crossroads appeared first on The Forward.

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