“Next year in Jerusalem” takes on a whole new meaning starting May 14th, 1948 (5th day if Iyar). It’s on this day that David Ben Gurion, our first Prime Minister, declares independence.
The events surrounding the declaration were quite dramatic. 6 months earlier, on November 29th, the UN voted for partition, meaning a Jewish state & Arab state side by side. The plan was never implemented due to the Arab countries refusal to accept this plan. This led to a civil war within the land of Israel until the British departure on May 15th. Over the first 4 months (December 47′-March 48′) the Arabs attacked Jewish movement on the roads all over the country. It was only in April that Ben Gurion decides to take the initiative and starts going on the offensive against the Arab irregulars (Arab fighters who came from abroad to fight) and Arab towns. This will lead us into May.
The British are scheduled to leave on May 15th, which is a Shabbat. Realizing that the provisional government can’t declare a Jewish state on Shabbat, and that it’s not a good idea to leave a vacuum situation once the British leave, BG makes the decision. The declaration will be made on Friday, May 14th, at 4 o’clock. The momentous event will take place in a modest building in Tel Aviv. Since Jerusalem is under siege it can’t take place there, so Tel Aviv was the second choice. The chosen building was the former home of late mayor Mayer Dizengoff, then an art museum. It was relatively protected from the outside which was important due to potential aerial bombing.
350 people were invited to the historic event. BG started the meeting on time, at 4 o’clock, and it lasted 32 minutes during which he read the declaration of Independence. The main sentence, which gave this country its name, was “..hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel”. This was followed by the signing of the document, after which BG declared the ceremony over.
This was a defining moment in Jewish history. It brought 3 Jewish aspects back to the place where it had begun millennia ago. The Jewish religion- Judaism, originated in the ancient land of Canaan, was now returning. The Hebrew language- born in the era when the Hebrew tribes were wandering the land, was now being modernized and used as the official modern tongue in the land that it had originated from. And last but not least, the connection of the Jewish people to the land itself. After yearning in prayers for 2000 years saying “next year in Jerusalem”, it was finally happening.
Unfortunately, the second phase of the Independence War started the following day with the invasion of the 5 neighboring Arab armies. It was only by March 1949 that the dust settled, the war ended, and the State of Israel could get busy building itself a new Jewish state.
Nathan Alterman, describing the heartache of the loss of life due to war, yet the excitement of the new country, put it best in his famous poem ‘The Silver Platter’ –
And the land grows still, the red eye of the sky slowly dimming over smoking frontiers
As the nation arises, Torn at heart but breathing, To receive its miracle, the only miracle
As the ceremony draws near, it will rise, standing erect in the moonlight in terror and joy
When across from it will step out a youth and a lass and slowly march toward the nation
Dressed in battle gear, dirty, Shoes heavy with grime, they ascend the path quietly
To change garb, to wipe their brow
They have not yet found time. Still bone weary from days and from nights in the field
Full of endless fatigue and unrested,
Yet the dew of their youth. Is still seen on their head
Thus they stand at attention, giving no sign of life or death
Then a nation in tears and amazement
will ask: “Who are you?” And they will answer quietly, “We Are the silver platter on which the Jewish state was given.”
Thus they will say and fall back in shadows
And the rest will be told In the chronicles of Israel