2013-04-03 / Religion Column

Show solidarity with Israel by celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut

Temple Emanuel

In 1953, the Israel Prize was established to honor Israeli citizens who have made outstanding contributions in the fields of humanities, the sciences, culture, arts, and for lifetime achievement. It is presented annually, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, in a state ceremony in Jerusalem, in the presence of the president, the prime minister, the speaker of the Knesset (Israel’s legislature), and the Israeli Supreme Court president. This prestigious award is an important highlight of the yearly celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, held on the fifth day of the Hebrew calendar month of Iyar, beginning, of course, in 1948.

Israeli Independence Day is always immediately preceded by Yom Hazikaron, the Memorial Day for fallen Israeli soldiers. The significance of linking these two days is clear: Israelis owe their independence— the very existence of the state—to the soldiers and their families who sacrificed their lives for it. The transition from a very somber day, Yom Hazikaron, to a festive one, Yom Ha’atzmaut, is marked with an official ceremony, which occurs just after sundown, at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl military cemetery when the Israeli flag is raised from half-mast to the normal position at the top of the flagpole. Often the president of Israel will deliver a speech while soldiers, representing all the various branches and units of the Israel Defense Forces, parade with their flags. In keeping with the connection between these two holidays, many army bases are open for civilians to visit the display of achievements of the Israel Defense Forces.

There is a wide array of festivities throughout Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. In major cities, such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, nighttime celebrations are centered in public areas with cultural performances. In other communities, many people spend the night doing Israeli folk dances and singing Israeli songs. During the day, many Israeli families have picnics or barbeques and enjoy fireworks at night (just as we do on our Independence Day, July 4).

The religious character of Yom Ha’atzmaut is still evolving, and is subject to some debate. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel has decided that this day should be marked with the recitation of Hallel (Psalms of praise), similar to other joyous Jewish holidays, and with the reading of a special haftarah (prophetic portion). For some religious communities in the Diaspora, Yom Ha’atzmaut has become a standard part of the prayerbook. The Reform prayerbook, “Mishkan T’filah,” includes a service for this modern holiday, while the Conservative prayerbook, “Sim Shalom,” includes Hallel and Al Hanissim (prayer read for miracles, e.g. Chanukah) for recitation on this occasion.

By celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut, American Jewry has a means to express solidarity with the State of Israel and to strengthen their connection with it. In many communities, it is an opportunity for Jewish organizations and synagogues, across ideologies and denominations, to join together for a common purpose and celebration.

This year, we are celebrating Israel’s 65th on Apr. 15-16. There are wonderful celebrations planned throughout our community. Don’t miss the exciting (and free) program on Monday, Apr. 15 beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Katz JCC. Let’s join together in celebrating Israel with food, music and a symbolic shofar blowing.

Chag Sameach! .

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