As white candles flickered solemnly, youngsters in baseball caps andshorts clutched prayer books and repeated ancient words from the book of Psalms.
"By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept as weremembered Zion . . ." they chanted. "How can we sing the Lord's song in a land of exile?"
But it was the end of that exile of the Jewish people and the 1948 creation of an independent Jewish state that was celebrated at Temple Beth Shalom in Arnold on Wednesday night.
Rabbi Robert Klensin emphasized to a group of about 50 children and parents that a homeland was something the Jewish people sought for nearly 2,000 years.
"It was something you prayed for three times a day, for something thathappened in our own century," he said. "In Israel this week, there will be lots of celebrations and parties, because this is a holiday, even though we don't dress up as we would for Sabbath."
For children and adults, the day's significance focused on Israel as a safe haven for Jewish people.
Israel Independence Day meant more to him, said Scott Curkin, 12, after a recent school trip to an exhibit about children of the Holocaust at the Washington Children's Museum.
"It's a special day because I had some family in the Holocaust, some of my dad's relatives," he said. "And it's sad that people died, but it'sgood because Hitler didn't win, and now there's this country, Israel, where people can go and live."
During the service, the Rabbi read from the Torah. He quoted Theodore Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization and considered the father of modern Zionism: "If you will it, you can make it happen," Herzl had said.
An even earlier figure in modern Zionism was Leo Pinsker, a Jewish doctor in Russiawho in the 1880s wrote a pamphlet called "Autoemancipation," emphasizing that Jews would have to create a place for themselves by themselves.
Pinsker called the Jewish people "the living dead," because they had existed as an entity -- but without a home -- for so many centuries without disappearing.
He believed this aspect of their history fostered anti-Semitism, and the only solution was for Jewish people to have their own homeland, a place where they would no longer be guests in another man's country.
Those who followed Pinsker's ideas called themselves "Lovers of Zion," and by 1900 more than 4,000 hadmigrated to Palestine, forming the foundations of what would become the nation of Israel.
"When the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., people said that was the end of the Jewish people. But God kept us alive," Rabbi Klensin said. "We thank God that Israel has been able to survive."
Israel Independence Day falls today in the religious Hebrew calendar, but because of Sabbath preparations on Friday, the service was conducted Wednesday, the rabbi explained. About 200 families regularly attend the Reform synagogue.
Robert Goodman attended theservice with his 11-year-old daughter, Sarah.
"I thought it wouldbe good for her to see (the service), and in a broader sense, we allfeel close to Israel as our heritage," he said. "It's not just something people living in Israel celebrate. We all celebrate."