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Israel’s Birth Celebrated at Yeshiva, May 1948

Commentator, May 20, 1948


The Commentator’s headline on May 20, 1948, proclaimed: “Yeshiva Rejoices at Birth of Israel: Zionists Applaud Historic Occasion;” the issue included brief statements from Yeshiva’s President, Dr. Samuel Belkin and faculty members acclaiming the “Yishuv’s Accomplishment.”  In an age of black and white, the front page of the issue boasted Hebrew phrases in honor of the new State of Israel in the blue hues symbolizing the Israeli (Zionist) flag and a blue and white map of the borders of two new states, a Jewish State and an Arab State. Jerusalem and environs are depicted separately in the upper left-hand corner. The map is superimposed on an English translation of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

“Garden Filled to Capacity as New York Salutes Israel,” the other article on the front page of The Commentator, described the overflow crowd at Madison Square Garden (then on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th streets) on May 16, 1948; people stood outside in the rain to join the tribute to the new Jewish State sponsored by all branches of the Zionist organizations.

Yeshiva University canceled classes on May 16, 1948, to enable students to attend the rally at Madison Square Garden. A letter signed by “Five members of Yeshiva College Alumni” (Commentator, May 20, 1948, p. 4) quoted Dr. Belkin’s remarks on suspending classes: “’Sunday, Iyar 7th—May 16, 1948—is a day of historic importance and significance for all of Israel because of the proclamation of a JEWISH STATE on the sacred soil of ERETZ-ISRAEL. It is, therefore, an occasion for public rejoicing, and a demonstration of our pride in and our solidarity with our valiant brethren of the Yishuv.’” But what motivated the five alumni to write to The Commentator and quote Dr. Belkin? The Alumni contrasted Dr. Belkin’s enthusiasm with the reaction of Moses Isaacs, Dean of Yeshiva College, “an avowed non-Zionist” who had also announced the cancellation of classes on May 16, 1948, but offered the explanation “’that many students are expected to be ill.’” The authors of the Alumni letter remarked that Dean Isaacs is entitled to his private opinion, but they viewed his response as ridiculing and mocking the president, administration, and students of Yeshiva University who support the fledgling state.

The editorial in The Commentator on May 16, 1948, reflected on the dangers of political differences, an apt lesson for Israel’s 75th Anniversary as well: “It is said that the second commonwealth was destroyed because of dissension among the Jewish people. We cannot allow the third commonwealth to fall because of political differences.”


Posted by Shulamith Z. Berger