Thursday, May 04, 2006

58 Years & Counting--Yom HaAtzmaut 5766

Tuesday afternoon, we all walked up to the basketball court so that Yehuda could attend the rehearsal for the yishuv's Yom HaZikaron/Yom HaAztmaut celebrations. The kids from the various ganim (3-5 year olds) were participating in the ceremony and Yehuda was ready to go. Led by some adult volunteer 'choreographers' the 50 or so kids who showed up obediently marched in circles waving little Israeli flags. Yehuda was quite proud of himself during the rehearsal and ready to get home to get into the requisite blue pants and white shirt of all Israeli celebrations.

A couple of hours later off we went for Yehuda's big debut (since Matan goes to school off the yishuv he wasn't participating). As the flag was raised from half-staff to its full height signifying the end of Yom HaZikaron and the beginning of Yom HaAtzmaut, the mood immediately changed as the 'yeldai ganim' (the children of the gan) were called up to start the festivities. Along with the other kids, Yehuda glowed with a sense of pride and excited to be participating in the festivities. The program moved on through the traditional Bnei Akiva flag routine, lighting of candles representing honoring different groups from the yishuv (olim, educators, military personnel, etc) and ended with a very nice fireworks display.

The ceremony was followed by a special Ma'ariv prayer service (tefillah chagagit) in celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut. The thing about Yom HaAtzmaut in the States that rarely, if ever, is captured is the religious significance that our community (the dati leumi/modern orthodox community) places on the holiday and the founding of the State. In the wake of last summer's Disengagement the relationship between segments of our community and the State have been stressed and difficult, however, even with that tragedy so fresh in our minds it was amazing to be part of a spirited and intense davening that signified the belief that we have that the State of Israel's existance today is truly a miracle from Hashem.

After davening, the kids then grabbed a quick felafel and were off to see a mime who the yishuv had brought in for the evening. They sat for an hour completely transfixed and laughing along with the the other kids in the audience.

The following day found us in Tekoa, in Eastern Gush Etzion, where the regional council was sponsoring a big festival. There were moon bounces, arts and crafts and a wonderful exhibit put on by the army with jeeps, tanks, remote controlled bomb disposal robots, all sorts of guns and cool optical things (binoculars, etc). The kids had a great time and then we came home to host a barbecue at our house with two other families. For those who don't know, barbecuing is the official 'religious obligation' of Yom HaAtzmaut with every family in Israel partaking in a barbecue somewhere...they cover the parks and forests, the beaches and people's homes. You can't go nowhere in the country without seeing a barbecue nearby.

The big news this Yom HaAtzmaut is that Israel has officially become the world's largest Jewish community for the first time since the first century of the common era (see the Jerusalem Post article) . With the Jewish population in the US (and the rest of Diaspora) steadily shrinking, Israel boasts the only Jewish community in the world that is actually growing. Estimates are that within 20-25 years the majority of the world's Jews will be living in Israel. This news brought with it a certain sense of validation and triumphalism for the people of Israel who have been building up to this point for over 100 years. There have been ups and downs and many very difficult obstacles to overcome, but here we are in 5766/2006 as the largest Jewish community in the world. Who would have thought that what our grandparents and great-grandparents could only dream of we are living today? 5.64 million Jews working together (mostly) to build a country. We have our differences and arguments, but ultimately, we are all in this together.

Here's to a wonderful 59th year filled with joy, safety and many more olim.

Happy Birthday Israel!

PS-Mazal tov to our friend Aryeh Binyamin Levin on his Bar Mitzvah this week. We are sorry we are missing his bar mitzvah, but very much look forward to welcoming Ari and the rest of the Levins at the airport this summer when they arrive as olim!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Yom HaZikaron-5766

At 8:00pm tonight the nation came to a standstill for the second time in a week. The siren blared signalling the beginning of Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day for our sons and daughters who have fallen in defense of our country and those civilians whose lives were snuffed out by terrorists. There are no big sales, in fact restaurants and shops are closed. This is as a solemn day as there is on the Israeli calendar. Yom Kippur and Tisha b'Av (commemorating the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash-the Holy Temple) are sad days on the calendar, but they are religious holidays and for many, even religious people, they don't hit quite as close to home and many struggle to connect. Unfortunately, most of the country doesn't have that problem of connection on Yom HaZikaron. Almost everyone, from the newest immigrant to the family who has been here for generations is someohow directly linked to someone who has lost their life either through war or terror in the 58 years since the country was founded. This fact is illustrated by my experience at tonight's 8:30pm Maariv minyan. Usually there are 30-50 people at this minyan (there is also one earlier and one later minyan which attract even more people), but tonight there were 13. It immediately occured to me that everyone else must be at some type of ceremony or commemoration, either public or private, to remember Israel's fallen. In many cases the memorial is too close to home--a father, brother, cousin or best friend from the army.

It was almost exactly three months ago that Yoseph Goodman fell to his early death and we 'joined' a group that we would have been happy to avoid. On days like today there are names that pop into our heads as we remember the martyrs of Israel--Yoseph Goodman, Koby Mandell & Yosef Ishran, Yehuda Shoham, Tsachi Sasson, Dr. David Applebaum and, unfortunately many others. Today, I add another name to the list, Alex Singer.

Alex died on his birthday, September 15, 1981 when he was killed by terrorists in South Lebanon. An article appeared in today's Jerusalem Post which you can read here. His family just launched a website, to continue to use Alex's life to educate and inpsire others. I think grasping Yom HaZikaron and giving it meaning (especially for those who aren't in Israel) is made easier by personalizing the day through learning about one of our heroes. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read a little about Alex or any other hero of Israel.

Alex wrote to his brother Saul (a Jerusalem Post columnist) a few months before his death:

"The purpose of my aliya will be a combination of wanting a greater chance to make my Judaism one of joy rather than one of burdens, of wanting to be part of Israel's development both as a state and as a beacon, and of feeling that it is the duty of the individual Jew to help the Jewish people."
Like us, Alex chose to make Israel his home and to tie his destiny to the Jewish people. Even today, almost two years after we arrived, it is sometimes difficult to explain to friends and family who are still in the States, why we made Aliyah. I think this quote captures our sentiments beautifully.
Wishing that we never bury another soldier or innocent civilian and remembering Alex, Yoseph, Koby, David, Tzachi, Yehuda, Tzvika and too many others.
Take a moment from your day and hear our siren.