I was just ten years old, at Israel’s 13th birthday, fifty years ago, and I was asked to recite the Declaration of Independence in Hebrew at the local celebrations.
I stood there on the stage, my ten year old knees knocking and my heart bursting with nerves and pride, as I began:
“ lefichach nitkanasnu anu ….” “Therefore we are gathered here …..
At ten years old I had never been to Israel, nor did I imagine that I ever would. It seemed light years away from my small hometown of Leicester, in the center of England.
It was a place we turned to and mentioned in our prayers, but I never expected to see.
I thought of that day a few weeks ago as I sat, with some of my students, in Independence Hall, on Rothschild Street in Tel Aviv, in the exact spot where that same declaration had first been read out by David Ben Gurion, 63 years ago.
Our guide was giving a background to the events of that momentous day, leading up to the somewhat rushed declaration of statehood on Friday afternoon May 14, 1948, just hours before the end of the British Mandate.
Jerusalem would have been the site of choice for such a historic occasional, but Jerusalem was under siege, making it impossible to have the ceremony there. So this hall, was chosen because it was the most sheltered and secure building in the area. And who knew if there might not be an air raid in the middle of the proceedings.
The ceremony was hastily decided on and put together.
There was tremendous international pressure on Ben Gurion to delay declaring Statehood for another few months at least, to appease the Arabs after the British left the country. Even his own military advisors told him that according to all logical calculations we had only a 50/50 chance of surviving the war that would ensue if we chose to declare statehood now.
But logic and statistics have never played a decisive role in our history. If they did we probably wouldn’t be here today. And Ben Gurion made the decision that whatever the outcome, from now on we would be the masters of our own destiny, a state in our own right.
The guide pointed to the furnishings. “You see these chairs – they were borrowed from a local café. The carpet was also borrowed from a local carpet shop and the microphones – yeah that’s right, borrowed from the local music shop”.
The guide asked if any of us had ever visited Independence Hall before. No one raised their hands. There was one elderly lady in the room. The guide looked at her and asked, “Have you never been here before?”
She smiled. “Have I ever been inside here before ?” she repeated. “ No. But I was here outside on May 14th, the 5th of Iyar in 1948, the day independence was declared. I was a five year old girl outside waiting to hear something that I understood was very important. We heard the ceremony through the loudspeakers and as the news came through that Ben Gurion had declared a Jewish State we all started dancing and singing – but then we had to run home to get ready for Shabbat”
As I listened to her story, I thought back to that little girl on the stage 50 years ago. She never dreamt that she would one day sit in the same room where the declaration she recited, was originally read out, privileged to live in the country G’d gave to His people now once again under Jewish leadership.
Watch the background story of the UN vote in November 1947