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19 November 2017 - 2 Kislev 5778 - ב' כסלו ה' אלפים תשע"ח
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Stronger when we stand together Print E-mail

The establishment of the State of Israel led to the creation of holidays for which we need to create rituals for ourselves and future generations.

These holidays are historic and while their religious character is being debated, one cannot ignore the spiritual connection we, as Jews worldwide, already have to these ‘new' festivals.

Yom Hashoah

Yom Hashoah “Holocaust Remembrance Day” was established by Israeli law in 1959. In Israel, there is a state ceremony at Yad Vashem on the eve of Yom Hashoah. At 10:00am on Yom HaShoah, air-raid sirens are sounded for two minutes.

Public transport comes to a standstill for this period, and people stop and stand silent. All flags on public buildings are flown at half mast. Jews in the Diaspora tend to observe the holiday within the synagogue, as well as in the broader Jewish community.

Many communities choose to read the names of Holocaust victims one after another. Rituals associated with Yom Hashoah are still being created and vary widely.

Yom Hazikaron

Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day or literally Israel Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day), enacted into law on 1963, is typically observed on the 4th day of the month of Iyar and always preceding the next day's celebrations of Israel Independence Day, Yom Ha'Atzmaut.

This holiday includes many national ceremonies for fallen soldiers. The preceding evening (erev) at 8pm there is a oneminute siren during which most Israelis stand in silence. The official ceremony to mark the opening of the day takes place at the Western Wall, at which time the flag of Israel is lowered to half mast.

A two-minute siren is heard the following morning, at 11am, which marks the opening of the official memorial ceremonies and private gatherings held at each cemetery where soldiers are buried.

The day officially draws to a close after 7pm during a ceremony on Mount Herzl, when the flag of Israel is returned to full mast.

Yom Ha'atzmaut

Yom Ha'atzmaut is Israel's Independence Day, the anniversary of the day members of the “provisional government” first read and signed a Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv, ending the British Mandate on 14 May 1948. The festival is celebrated on the Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday closest to that date. In 2004, the law was changed to provide that if 5th Iyar falls on Monday, the festival is postponed to Tuesday 6th Iyar, so that Yom Hazikaron will not be immediately after Shabbat.

An official ceremony is held on Mount Herzl on the eve of Yom Ha'atzmaut. The ceremony includes a speech by the speaker of the Knesset and a ritual march of soldiers carrying the flag of Israel and the lighting of twelve beacons.

The transition from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha'atzmaut occurs just minutes apart from one another. The flag is raised again and soldiers representing the army, navy, and air force parade with their flags.

The religious character of the holiday is still under debate. Most Israelis though consider this a chance to celebrate in the streets and let loose and enjoy.

For Diaspora Jews it is a chance to show support for Israel by bringing a bit of the Israeli spirit into their own communities worldwide. Wherever Jews are found, the words of the Hatikvah are sung proudly.

The observance of Memorial Day immediately preceding Independence Day, serves as a reminder for all Jews of the price that freedom has come with and the sacrifices that the fallen have made to ensure our continued survival as a people.

Celebration and recognition of these holidays, always central to the Israeli experience, is rapidly gaining importance throughout the Diaspora. In the face of the sharp rise in antisemitism and the challenges posed by the growing problem of international terrorism, it is perhaps more important than ever to remember that we are stronger when we stand together as a people.

(Issue April 2009)

 

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