Let it Be Told

Posted by Jessica Minnen on May 8, 2024
Topics: Yom Hazikaron, Israel National Holidays, Holidays & Special Readings

What does Yom HaZikaron look like and feel like in Israel? Everyone has lost someone. Flags fly at half staff. Television broadcasts cease, replaced by an endless scroll of the names of the fallen. At 8 p.m. and 11 a.m. a siren wails, followed by a moment of silence, a stillness so quiet you can hear the heartbreak. Family and friends gather in cemeteries from Rosh Hanikra to Eilat. The symbolic Red Everlasting Flower (in Hebrew דם המכבים, Blood of the Maccabees) blooms on countless lapels.

Thousands of miles away from these rituals, what does it mean to experience Yom Ha’Zikaron in North America? Flags fly high and television personalities chatter. No siren cries out, no blood-red flowers blossom. You may not know someone who died in the wars of Israel or in an act of terrorism. It may feel like just another day. Now more than ever in a post-October 7 world, it is our responsibility to make sure that it isn’t.

The word zikaron comes from the Hebrew לזכור, to remember. As you consider how to mark Yom Ha’Zikaron outside of Israel, it is worth considering what it means to remember. The idea of remembering appears throughout Jewish text and liturgy. Commandments to remember repeat in our daily prayers and weekly rituals. One such ritual, reciting Kiddush to sanctify Shabbat, caught the attention of Maimonides, the great sage of 12th century Spain. Of all the potential ways to sanctify Shabbat, why this way? He wrote in Hilchot Shabbat 29:1:

.מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה מִן הַתּוֹרָה לְקַדֵּשׁ אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת בִּדְבָרִים שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר זָכוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ

It is a positive commandment from the Torah to sanctify Shabbat with words, as it is written: Remember Shabbat and sanctify it.

For Maimonides, remembering doesn’t mean thinking, it means speaking. Your words matter. Your words have power. In order to truly remember, you have to say the words.

You can apply Maimonides’ wisdom to your own understanding of Yom Ha’Zikaron. To elevate memory requires words. To commemorate this day outside of Israel is to speak, to text, and to post about what Israel means to you and why a Jewish State matters. Yom Ha’Zikaron should be a day when the heroes of Israel come to life through your words, in the conversations you have with your friends, and in the stories you tell your children.

As Yom Ha’Zikaron draws to a close in Israel, something truly remarkable happens. Instead of returning home to steep in sorrow, Israelis do just the opposite — they celebrate. Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day, begins. Streets overflow with revelry and hearts brim with gratitude. It is not a seamless emotional transition, but it is an expression of what it means to be Jewish, resilient and miraculous. We are, as Nathan Altmann so poetically described, “the nation awash in tears and magic” (האומה שטופת דמע וקסם). One flows directly into the other.

You may be wondering, having exercised the power of your words on Yom Ha’Zikaron, how to transition into the joy of Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Those of us in North AmericaYom Ha’Atzmaut is an invitation to celebrate with family and community. But it is also an opportunity to dedicate part of your day to history, to celebrate the creation of the Jewish State by reading an article, watching a video, or listening to a podcast, and immersing yourself, even for a few moments, in the story of Israel.

Originally published as part of the Jewish Federation of North America’s Yom HaZikaron Resource.

About Jessica Minnen

Rabbi Jessica Minnen is a writer, ritualist, and liturgist committed to the discipline of delight. Inspired by user-centered design, she consults with organizations across the country to create, deliver, and scale transformative Jewish learning. Jessica is a sought-after educator who has taught for Hillel International, Jewish Federations of North America, JCC Association of North America, Foundation for Jewish Camp, and Birthright Israel, among others. She was a part of the founding team of OneTable where she served as Rabbi in Residence from 2014-2021, and now works as a Senior Education Specialist with Momentum where she focuses on introducing women around the world to Jewish values through an immersive Israel experience, regional retreats, cohort-based learning, and a daily companion app. Originally from Paducah, Kentucky, Jessica is an alumna of Washington University in St. Louis, the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Paideia: The European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, and Baltimore Hebrew University. She is a past Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Women’s Leadership Mission and the Ruskay Institute for Professional Leadership and received rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2013. Jessica lives in Denver, Colorado and is mom to one amazing dog and one amazing human.

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