Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Observations from My Sabbatical Leave: Preparing for Israel’s 65th Anniversary

We have fireworks stands that come and go.  They have flags galore, as you can see in the photo of a square in the town of Nahariyya.  They are displayed all over the land, in squares, on automobiles, and in store windows.

We have a holiday of gathering, parties, and fireworks.  They have a holiday eve of solemn observance followed by fireworks and barbecues.

The rhythm of the land of Israel at the time of Independence Day – observed this year on Tuesday April 16 – is somewhat different from that of the United States as we approach July 4, and there are significant historical and emotional reasons for this.

In Israel, the day before Independence Day is Israel’s Memorial Day – this year April 15 – when Israelis venerate the memories of their war dead.  And the small size and young age of the country, added to the reality of ongoing struggles with its neighbors, means that every family here mourns either their own loved ones, or those of people very close to them.

Yom Hazikaron (Hebrew for Memorial Day) contains these observances:  Schools and businesses are open for half a day.  At 11 AM, sirens sound throughout the country and everyone stops whatever they are doing and stands at attention for three minutes.  Schools do not dismiss their students, but instruction ends and each campus has its own ceremony of memory, because each school has alumni who have died in Israel’s many armed conflicts.

Family members and friends then visit cemeteries where war dead have been buried, bringing respect and honor to those who died for their country.  This goes on throughout the afternoon, and as evening approaches, the country prepares for the anniversary celebration of the nation’s independence.
As the evening sets in, another siren sounds, signifying the end of Yom Hazikaron and the start of Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day).  Then the country enters a full day of celebrations, gatherings, fireworks, and acceptance of the blessing of freedom in an independent land.

The weather also turns decidedly warmer at this time of year, and Israelis are anxious to get outside and perform these acts of memory and celebration.  And it is a privilege to be here and celebrate with our cousins.

Shabbat Shalom to you, and a happy 65th Independence Day as well!

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