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We Have a Flag - And it is Blue and White By Cantor Jamie Gloth

04/11/2021 10:16:29 PM


The counting of the omer, the seven-week period between Passover and Shavuot, actually has its roots in agriculture. An ‘omer’ is a sheaf of grain, and in the Torah, we are commanded to count seven weeks from Passover - the beginning of the grain harvest - until Shavuot - the end of the grain harvest.  In Temple times, this was marked by a sheaf of grain being offered at Passover, and two loaves of bread being offered at Shavuot. 

Today, most of us are not farmers, and we do not spend these forty-nine days harvesting our grain. So it is no surprise that many have trouble relating to the practice of counting the omer. Luckily, there are several events during the counting that break it up, and perhaps offer us a way to feel more connected.

Last week we marked Yom HaShoah, a day of remembrance of the Holocaust, and this week, we mark two more important days on the Jewish calendar: Yom HaZikaron, a Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers, and Yom HaAtamaut, Israel’s Independence Day. I have always found these holidays extremely moving, and a way to feel a closer connection to the State of Israel and Jews from around the world. I especially feel that connection every time I look at an Israeli flag, which itself has a fascinating history.

Flags are nothing new to us. During their wanderings in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites raised banners and flags in their camps to signify their tribal identities (see Numbers 2:2). According to the Midrash, each tribal prince had a flag of a different color, corresponding to one of the 12 precious stones in the breastplate of the High Priest.

The Israeli flag, with its simple design, has its roots in Jewish tradition. It is meant to resemble the tallit, the prayer shawl used by Jews worldwide during our everyday prayers. It was first used during the First Zionist Congress, held in Basle, Switzerland in 1897. A major role in working out this design was played by David Wolfsohn, a Zionist leader who would succeed Theodor Herzl as president of the World Zionist Organization. Here is what happened, as recounted by Wolfsohn himself:

“At the behest of our leader Herzl, I came to Basle to make preparations for the Zionist Congress, to assure its success and to avoid any opening for detractors. Among the many other problems that occupied me then was one that contained something of the essence of the Jewish problem: What flag would we hang in the Congress Hall? .... Then an idea struck me. We have a flag — and it is blue and white. The tallit (prayer shawl) with which we wrap ourselves when we pray: that is our symbol. Let us take this tallit from its bag and unroll it before the eyes of Israel and the eyes of all nations. So I ordered a blue and white flag with the Shield of David painted upon it. That is how the national flag, that flew over Congress Hall, came into being. And no one expressed any surprise or asked whence it came, or how.”

It is no wonder we feel such a strong connection to it. The Israeli flag reminds us of the tallit, and the tallit reminds us of God’s mitzvot. Our entire tradition is wrapped up in our flag.

This Yom HaAtzmaut (which begins Wednesday evening), as we celebrate Israel’s 73rd birthday, we may not be able to visit Israel in person (yet). But no matter where we are, we will always be connected to Israel. Elie Wiesel once wrote: “We all believe that the links between Israel and the Jewish people are indestructible: One cannot live without the other. Israel to us is more than a justification of our existence; Israel is our existence.”

Chag Atzmaut Sameach. Fly your Israeli flag with pride, and make the day count.


~Cantor Jamie Gloth

Isreal Flag Std - Shames JCC

Saturday, July 31 2021 22 Av 5781