Israel’s National Days of Commemoration: Reflection, Sorrow and Celebration

Posted by Alex Israel on April 10, 2018
Topics: Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, Israel National Holidays, Pardes 360, Yom Yerushalayim, Yom Ha'atzmaut

The following is a Facebook post written by Pardes faculty member Rabbi Alex Israel.

As soon as Pesach ends, Israel’s attention turns to our national days of commemoration: Yom Hashoa, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatazmaut. The feeling is in the air, palpable, as flags are raised on apartment balconies, public buildings and even private vehicles; as radio interviews talk with Holocaust survivors, 2nd and 3rd generation, academics and experts, about the horrors of the past and the nature of our collective memory; and at the same time posters announce concerts and other celebrations for Israel’s 70 years. Reflection, sorrow and celebration mix in an impossible mosaic as tears of loss merge with tears and songs of happiness.

Today I had quite the whirlwind day. It is past midnight but I need to share my excitement and my inspiration at this amazing day.

I began my morning at Pardes, talking with my students about their Pesach break. Several reflected on the manner in which Pesach dominated the public space in a way that was so powerful, refreshing and natural, as one student remarked: “Where I come from, one has to carve a small space for Pesach, surrounded by a Christian culture, but here, Judaism is just everywhere.” Too true!

After class [teaching Torah in Jerusalem to students from around the world is always a privilege], I rushed to the Knesset. I am one of 70 Rabbis/Rabbaniot visiting the US this Shabbat as guest speakers to celebrate 70 years of Israel as a project of World Mizrachi, to talk about what Medinat Yisrael signifies and its impact. We had a “send-off” at the Knesset, guests of MK Shuli Mualem.

I enter the Knesset with a sense of awe. We can be cynical about our politicians (and sometimes for good reason, sometimes undeserved,) but for me, as I travel abroad to share some of the inspiration which should animate us all at Yom Haatzmaut, I think about the gift of self-governance. Chazal say the the difference between the days of Exile and those of the Messianic age is שעבוד מלכויות – and the corollary – sovereignty, autonomy, independence, represents an indescribable shift in our Jewish story. The meeting at the Knesset, the gravitas which the institution conveys, is a powerful reminder of the unbelievable blessing להיות עם חפשי בארצינו, to forge our own future, to set our own destiny. What an incredible way to be reminded of and to internalize the significance of Israel in advance of our Independence Day.

I walked, past flowering olive trees and through Jerusalem’s parks, to Machane Yehudah for lunch and Mincha. Nothing more need be said… every type of food, every type of Jew; Jerusalem alive and colorful (and tasty!), the Shuk constantly evolving, changing along with Israeli society. I took it in. More blessings! Jerusalem is the barometer of redemption. In destruction a “widow”; in rebuilding as a woman surrounded by her children – כולם נקבצו ובאו לך. The light rail burgeoning with commuters, students, tourists and shoppers.

The finale – Koolulam. [If you don’t know the project, just YouTube it.] This evening, in honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary, in the presence of President Rivlin, 12,000 Israelis – old and young, religious and secular, from North and South – came together in song and harmony to sing Noami Shemer’s על כל אלה. It was a magnificent tribute, an evening of fun, joy and celebration and pride, steeped with a wonderful sense of “achdut – togetherness,” a vision of what Israel can and should be. It was deeply inspiring. [Look out for the video next week.]

Some days here just leave a person elevated and exhilarated. Today was one such day. We are blessed to live in our land, in our country.

I hope and pray that I can spread a little of my excitement to my students and to the communities I visit.


Pardes 360 is a series of responses to world current events by Pardes faculty in 360 words (or sometimes a few more). The views expressed in the articles are those of the author and do not reflect and institutional stance. To read other Pardes 360 articles, click here.

About Alex Israel

Alex teaches Bible at Pardes and is the Director of the Community Education Program and the Summer Program. Alex was born and raised in London. He holds degrees from London School of Economics, the Institute of Education London and Bar-Ilan University. Alex studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion under Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and Rav Yehudah Amital, and gained Rabbinic ordination from the Israeli Rabbinate. Click here to read more. You can find books written by Alex by clicking here

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