A Somber Day followed by a Day of Excitement
By Rabbi Jessy Gross
With the exception of Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, this week in Israel is perhaps one of the most powerful in Israeli culture and society. With Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 24, 2017) just a handful of days before Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Captives, May 1), leading directly into Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day, May 2), the Jewish people globally, the country as a whole and all the individual citizens of Israel move through a full range of emotions, reflections and vision for what Israel still desires to be – a light unto the nations.
Yom Hazikaron is marked by ceremonies which recall the vast number of men and women (and families) who have made sacrifices of their own lives and the lives of loved ones for the sake of protecting our beloved Jewish homeland. It is a time that affects every single person in the land; for there is no one in Israeli society who has not lost a family member, friend or classmate who died in service to their country.
This day of somberness and sadness gives way, almost immediately, to ecstatic celebrations in which all facets of Israeli society literally take to the street to dance and be joyous. In just one 24 hour period, the country as a whole goes through the series of emotions and the juxtaposition of the loss and sacrifice to have a homeland in the first place to the gratitude and celebration that having the State of Israel brings to the Jewish People as a whole.
In the U.S. we celebrate Memorial Day at the end of May and Independence Day July 4. These holidays are not “holy days” but are generally regarded as fun, festive days of national pride, when we open the pools, light up the barbecues, and blast beautiful fireworks into the nighttime sky.
Israel’s Memorial Day is very different than ours. Theaters, cinemas, nightclubs and pubs are closed, and the sound of a siren is heard throughout the country, signaling the beginning of the Yom Hazikaron at 8:00pm. A second siren goes off at 11:00 am the next day, when prayers for Israel’s fallen war heroes are read aloud in cemeteries, and broadcast programs portraying the lives and heroic deeds of the soldiers may be heard on the radio and television.
Yom Ha’atzmaut, which falls this year on the evening of Monday, May 1 and ends on the evening of Tuesday, May 2, is more reminiscent of Independence Day in the U.S. — replete with fireworks, barbecues, fun public concerts, and everyone’s favorite Israeli cuisine. On this day, Israelis celebrate the anniversary of the creation of Israel, on May 14, 1948. On that day, David Ben Gurion became Israel’s first Prime Minister and declared the establishment of the State of Israel and the end of the British Mandate.
Join us in the lobbies of the Rosenbloom Owings Mills and Weinberg Park Heights JCCs to pick up a small Israeli flag and fact sheets about Yom Ha’atzmaut. We will also share a copy of a newspaper from Independence Day 1948 and a copy of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.