We are in a unique time of year for the Jewish people. It is a time when we both commemorate and celebrate as a worldwide Jewish community. We are in the middle of a special ten-day period – one filled with anticipation and various emotions. Although these days are based on secular holidays in Israel (added to the Jewish calendar following the establishment of the State of Israel), they are a part of every Jewish community and, I hope, every Jew.
Last Sunday, we commemorated Yom HaShoah to honor those who perished in the Holocaust. Our community had a special gathering organized by the Oregon Board of Rabbis. And on Monday, the annual Unto Every Person There is a Name, where names of those who were murdered during the Holocaust were read, was coordinated by the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. These were opportunities for the Jewish community to come together and remember.
This Sunday evening, the 4th of Iyar, will be Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Memorial Day. This day is to remember the 23,320 casualties of war and terrorism who have fallen since 1860 (when Jews were first allowed to live outside of Jerusalem’s Old City walls) in their struggle for the State of Israel. Yom HaZikaron is different in its character and mood from our country’s Memorial Day. For instance, almost 25% of the country’s population will visit military cemeteries. And, for 24 hours (from sunset to sunset) all places of public entertainment (theaters, cinemas, nightclubs, etc.) are closed. The most noticeable feature of the day are the sounds of sirens heard throughout the country twice. At those times, the entire nation comes to a "standstill,” including all traffic and activities. The first minute-long siren at 8:00 p.m. marks the beginning of Yom HaZikaron, and the second, lasting two-minutes, will be heard at 11:00 a.m. on Monday marking the official opening of the memorial ceremonies and private remembrance gatherings at each cemetery throughout Israel where soldiers are buried.
Although Yom HaZikaron is Israel’s Memorial Day, it is a day for all Jews to remember and think about those who have served the State of Israel and our people. In addition to the fallen soldiers, we should take the time to think about the thousands of bereaved family members. Our community, will mark Yom HaZikaron this Sunday evening at 8:00 p.m. with a special program at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center led by Israelis who live in our community.
Following the conclusion of Yom HaZikaron, comes the celebration of Israel’s independence, Yom Ha'Atzmaut. The official "switch" from Yom HaZikaron to Yom Ha’Atzmaut takes place a few minutes after sundown with a ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, in which the Israeli flag is raised from half-staff. The message in linking these two days is clear: Israelis owe their independence - the very existence of the State - to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for it.
Israel's Independence Day is celebrated on the 5th of Iyar (this date corresponded to May 14, 1948), which is the Hebrew date of the formal establishment of the State of Israel, when members of the "provisional government" read and signed the Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv.
For American Jews, celebrating Yom Ha’Atzmaut is one way to express solidarity with the State of Israel and to strengthen our connections. For Jews around the world, joining with Israelis celebrating Yom Ha’Atzmaut has become a concrete link in the Jewish connection to the land of Israel and to one another. Come and celebrate Israel’s 69th birthday on Monday, May 1 from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center – there will be fun activities for everyone.
Let us hope and pray we are no longer caught between mourning and celebration – no more fallen soldiers…no more terrorist attacks…and no more sirens.
Earlier this week we had the pleasure of hearing Lesley Sachs, Executive Director of the Women of the Wall, speak in our community. The organization’s central mission is to attain social and legal recognition for women to wear tallit (prayer shawls), pray and read from the Torah, collectively and aloud, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Lesley shared difficult stories about confrontations that have taken place at the Western Wall and the current legal battle happening now in Israel’s Supreme Court and Knesset.
A plan has been developed to create a new egalitarian prayer area at the Western Wall (at Robinson’s Arch), yet those plans continue to get delayed. On June 4, Israel’s Supreme Court is set to make its decision and move this process forward in some way or another.
I understand that for many, what these women wish to do is against their tradition and beliefs. And for many Israelis this is an issue not on their radar screen. But for liberal Jews in Israel and around the world, the issue of religious pluralism in Israel is enormous.
Speaking of women, mazel tov to Lois Shenker and Rabbi Eve Posen for their new book, Pirkei Imahot: The Wisdom of Mothers. The Voices of Women. This compendium of Jewish thoughts by women from around the country is a true treasure. The book launch will take place on Monday, May 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Congregation Neveh Shalom. Everyone is invited and I hope you will join Lois and Rabbi Posen as they share their wisdom, along with incredible guest speaker, Ruth Messinger, Global Ambassador for American Jewish World Service.
As we commemorate those who have fallen in defense of the State of Israel and celebrate her independence, let us look forward to peace, openness, and continued growth in the decades ahead. Israel is a magnificent country that has achieved far more in 69-short years than anyone could have expected.