This month we celebrate Yom Ha-atz-ma-ut, Israel's Independence Day. We are proud that the State of Israel is a beacon of hope to the Jewish people around the world. We are proud of Israel's achievements in the sciences, in medicine, in technology, and in the arts. We are also proud of Israel's strong military, which protects the Israeli population from constant threats and attacks. And, since defense is the key to Israel's existence, let us explore the meaning of the word Tza-hal a collective name for the Israeli Defense Forces.
On May 26, 1948, Tza-hal was officially declared as Israel's Defense Force. Tza-hal is an acronym built on three Hebrew words: Tz'-vah, meaning 'army of,' Haganah, meaning 'defense,' and Le-Israel meaning 'for Israel.' To this day, Tza-hal is the force, which protects the State and her population by a strong Air Force, an exceptional Navy and an unusually dedicated Army. Tza-hal is a merger of different Jewish defense organizations, which preceded it. The Ha-shomer "the guard,' the Haganah 'the defense,' the Irgun 'the organization,' and Chyl the 'Jewish Fighting Brigade,' all which fought either in Israel proper or in Europe to defend the unprotected Jewish population.
It should be noted that the groups, out of which Tza-hal evolved, represented the Jewish political and social spectrum. For example, Ha-shomer-'The Guard'-was an organization of young volunteers defending Jewish settlements in Eretz Israel during 12 long years of Arab terror (1908 -1920). Another group, the Haganah, was established in 1920 to protect the Jewish population from further Arab attacks. It grew in size and by 1929 was an organized force in whose ranks served Jewish volunteers who fought in World War I as well as those who fought in Israel proper.
Another part of the spectrum was the Irgun, a group who in 1931 separated itself from the Haganah and organized as the underground to fight the British Army and its colonial control of Eretz Israel. Last but not least, we should mention Chyl, a Hebrew acronym for Cha-ti-vah Ye-hu-dit Lo-che-met, meaning "The Jewish Fighting Brigade," a group of volunteers from Israel who joined the British military and in 1944 was recognized as a special Jewish unit. The Brigade fought during WWII along side the British army particularly in Italy. The fighters of the Brigade also helped bring Jewish survivors to the safe shores of Israel after the war.
On this Yom Ha-atz-ma-ut, the Day of Israel's Independence, we salute Tza-hal, the force which succeeded to unite under one flag all Israelis, regardless of social and political persuasions, assuring all of us a joyful celebration of the modern miracle of Statehood.
Professor Rachel Zohar Dulin teaches Hebrew and Bible at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago.