As Israel turns 73, we mourn victims of war on Yom HaZikaron; celebrate on Yom Ha’atzmaut

By Student Rabbi Caitlin Brazner

This week, beginning at sundown Tuesday, April 13, Israelis observe the twin national holidays of Yom HaZikaron, the Day of Remembrance, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.

The largest and some of the most widely observed of Israel’s national holidays, Remembrance Day and Independence Day offer Israelis and indeed, Jews worldwide, an opportunity to reflect on the Jewish State and its importance in our lives.

Yom HaZikaron is a solemn day in Israel, memorializing Israeli soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the War of Independence and subsequent battles.

It is also a day for remembering the many civilian victims of terrorism. On this day of national public mourning, all entertainment venues are closed and two-minute sirens sound throughout Israel.

Yom HaZikaron is a solemn day in Israel, memorializing Israeli soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the War of Independence and subsequent battles.

Israelis stand in silence in respect and memory. Drivers stop their cars and stand by the road as the sirens continue.

Such is the solemnity of the occasion. (The Israel Defense Ministry reports 23,928 Israeli soldiers and civilians have died in war or terrorist attacks, including 112 during the past year.)

The nation carries out memorials at the Kotel (Western Wall) and Mount Herzl, Israel’s military cemetery, while schools hold mandatory assemblies. Families and friends come together to remember lost loved ones.

Yom Ha’atzmaut is a day of celebration

Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, follows on Thursday, April 14, as an altogether different affair.

Joyous Israelis don white clothing and take to the streets to celebrate the founding of their state.

Fireworks, parties, barbecues and outdoor concerts are standard fare as the nation marks its founding in 1948. Many of the country’s entertainment venues, including museums, national parks and other attractions, open free of charge.

Now, ceremonies at Mount Herzl turn from commemoration to celebration, with speeches and a military parade. Just 24 hours after their national day of mourning, Israelis begin a national day of celebration. In linking these two events, Israelis acknowledge the real human cost to founding and sustaining a state.

Secular ‘High Holidays’ allow Jews to meet on common ground

As American Jews, we have the opportunity to stand in solidarity with Israel during these holidays.

While we may all feel differently about Israel and disagree about politics, policy, religious practice or law, Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut offer a chance for Jews to meet on common ground.

We observe the miraculous founding of our Jewish homeland and show thanks to those who have given their lives in pursuit of this goal.

We observe the miraculous founding of our Jewish homeland and show thanks to those who have given their lives in pursuit of this goal.

I invite you to join me in offering the following prayer for Israel:

O heavenly one, Protector and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel which marks the dawning of hope for all who seek peace. Shield it beneath the wings of Your love; spread over it the canopy of Your peace; send Your light and truth to all who lead and advice, guiding them with Your good counsel. Establish peace in the land and fullness of joy for all who dwell there. Amen.

As we enter into these secular, Israeli “High Holidays”, let us stand in solidarity with Israelis worldwide and continue to hope and pray for peace and prosperity for all in the Jewish State.

Student Rabbi Caitlin Brazner will serve UHC Terre Haute during the second half of the 2020-21 academic year.

(Image of Yom HaZikaron candle-lighting at Western Wall courtesy of Spokesperson unit of the President of Israel , קובי גדעון, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.)

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