Yom Ha’atzmaut: Shabbat Message from Cantorial Soloist Michelle Auslander Cohen

Years ago, while pursuing a career in opera, every coach and conductor I worked with told me my voice was perfect for La Bohème. I spent hundreds of hours in my twenties practicing this music, yet there came a point when I made a decision that I would never be able to sing it. So sacred to me is this particular opera, I did not dare to assume that my voice could possibly achieve the beauty Puccini had intended.

This week, when asked to write the Shabbat Message for Yom Ha’atzmaut – the celebration of 76 years of the State of Israel, I felt the same inadequacy; “Who am I to write such an important message on such a special topic?”

I sat for hours, wondering how to put a million ideas into one concise message that captures the essence of Yom Ha’atzmaut in May 2024. This past year was supposed to be a grand celebration 75 years of Israel, and look at what this year has become – unspeakable horror and devastation. It will surely take years to understand the catastrophic reverberations from this one single day – October 7.

Over the past year we have raised money for Israel, bore witness, brought in speakers, said prayers, wrote postcards, went on mission trips, had task forces, hosted Israeli teens, welcomed an Israeli rabbi, heard from IDF soldiers, went to rally’s, had support groups and the list goes on and on and on. And yet, I always think to myself, “did I do enough? Will it ever be enough?”

In an effort to help understand the fullness of Israel this Yom Ha’atzmaut, I found it helpful to think of what this tiny piece of land has meant to the world, to the Jewish people, and to me.

To the world, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.

It has given the world the Iron Dome, Waze, the PillCam™ (a swallowable medical camera). modern drip irrigation, the USB flash drive – not to mention the cherry tomato, Rummikub, hummus, and so much more. Additionally, Israel is the spiritual homeland for all three Abrahamic religions.

To the Jewish community, Israel is our safe haven – the only Jewish homeland. We are Torah – rooted in love and mitzvot. We are living links in the chain of traditions- extending our light to the nations. We are a diverse people from what we wear to how we express our Judaism, yet our belief in one God unites us all; Sh’ma Yisrael, we are one.

And as for me: well – I married Israel! Literally and figuratively! Yaniv, the love of my life, was born in Israel and brings into our home that wonderful Israeli spirit of “All is ok! We’ve been through worse, we’ll be fine.”

To me, Israel is Hebrew – the sacred language that connects us to Torah. Even if I merely utter a prayer in Hebrew, I am immediately transported to the deepest place within my soul and feel connected to the oneness of God and our people.

And lastly, what Israel means to me is summed up in these words:

 Yerushalayim shel zahav….Halo l’chol shirayich, ani kinor. 

Jerusalem of gold…I am a violin for all your songs. 

This Naomi Shemer melody sounds ancient although it was written in 1967. Jerusalem of Gold: gold, the color of the old city when the sun sets, and gold; a material described as malleable, “that which can be stretched or deformed without breaking or losing strength or worth.” This is indeed the Jewish people.

Throughout my life, especially this past year, I have done my best to be that instrument – the violin through which all things “Israel” are heard throughout our community. I have tried to stay hopeful through these dark times, and to inspire those around me to embrace the essence of their Jewish identity and strengthen our community ties to Israel.

This Yom Ha’atzmaut, now more than ever – run, don’t walk towards your Judaism. “We are descended from those who wrestle with angels and slay giants.*” We are blessed with an awesome strength of spirit that has spanned thousands of years. Now is the time to stand together with unwavering faith and support for Israel. Wear your Jewish stars, display your flags, face misinformation with dignity and truth, go on mission trips…And, when faced with hate, proudly and unapologetically declare with all your heart, all your soul and all your might, Am Yisrael Chai.

*From the film, Jojo Rabbit

Shabbat Shalom,

Michelle Auslander Cohen
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