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Israeli Memorial/Independence Days 

May 1, 2024


Rabbi Nathan Martin

In the Israeli calendar Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day are consecutive commemorations. This year they fall on May 13 and May 14 respectively. This is not accidental. The cost of Israeli lives in its struggle for independence in 1948, about 1% of its population at the time, linked the loss and celebration, each as inextricable pieces of a whole. Much like any Jewish ceremony ‐ like breaking a glass at a wedding ‐ it is often our nature as Jews to connect sadness to joy, perhaps as a way of grounding us and giving us new perspectives.

I have been in Israel during this time of commemoration, and two years ago accompanied a group of travelers from Beth Israel. Memorial Day is a somber affair. One can tell that nearly everyone in Israel is connected to loss from either the 1948 war, or the many wars afterwards. Television stations play interviews and share stories and documentaries of the people whose lives were cut short and the impact they made on others. Official ceremonies take place on Har Hertzl (Mount Herzl), a memorial day modern pilgrimage site that hosts families coming to honor their dead. Our Beth Israel group had the privilege of attending a local memorial day ceremony in the courtyard of a high school in Tel Aviv where we listened to song, poetry, cried, and learned about the lives of the 50 high school students who have been killed in conflicts since the founding of the state.

And then, almost as suddenly as it began, the memorial day ceremonies are closed with a ritual and the country moves to barbecues, music, and celebration. It’s a jarring transition. And the underlying message, perhaps drawing from the teaching of Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav is that it is a mitzvah to be joyful and to join in the circle of celebration even if we have to bring in our sadness to the dance.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like at this moment for Israelis to be commemorating memorial day this year with the wounds of the October 7 massacre so fresh and the country still enmeshed in a war with Gaza, with continued casualties happening every week, and so many hostages still in captivity. It will clearly be a communal moment of pain and anguish for many. And I imagine, as I write this, that independence day celebrations will be muted this year as well.

And I also am turning my mind at this time to the devastating loss of life in Gaza, the famine conditions affecting its inhabitants, and the seeming quagmire of how Israel can move toward a resolution of this conflict at this moment. It’s a painful reality to confront, and this memorial day, it is also important for us to open a spot in our hearts to grieve this tremendous loss that has set back a generation of many Gaza’s from the possibility of living a less conflict‐ridden, less traumatic life.

In this light, I am drawn to a special memorial ceremony I attended this past year (on Zoom), entitled the “Joint Palestinian‐Israel Memorial Day Ceremony” organized in part by the Parents‐Circle Families Forum, a group in Israel composed of families on both sides of the conflict who have lost someone. During our Beth Israel Visit to Israel we listened to two speakers from the Parents Circle Families Forum ‐‐ an Israeli man and a Palestinian woman ‐‐ who had shared heartbreaking stories about the loss of their child to this conflict and how they keep moving forward.

As I was watching the Joint Memorial ceremony on Zoom last year, the speakers ‐ both Israeli and Palestinian, were being heckled by demonstrators outside the barriers of the event. It was painful to see that grievers were not able to mourn and grieve, even at this tender moment, and was also a sign of the dissension that was gripping the country even before the current war.

I have no answers to the conflict that Israel is involved in. I pray everyday for everyone’s peace and well being. For the return of the hostages. For an end to the hostilities. But at least on this upcoming memorial day, in addition to following the traditional Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’aztmaut ceremonies, I will also plan to participate again (via Zoom) in the Joint ceremony being zoomed at 1:30pm on May 12, as an additional way to honor the loss this year. I invite others to join and we will plan to create some space during one of our Friday night services for people to share their thoughts and reactions.

I close with an offering of Yehuda Amichai’s poem “Wildpeace” as we join Israel this month in their commemoration of loss. May the one who makes peace above make peace for us below.

Wildpeace by Yehuda Amichai

Not the peace of a cease‐fire,
not even the vision of the wolf and the lamb,
but rather
as in the heart when the excitement is over
and you can talk only about a great weariness.
I know that I know how to kill,
that makes me an adult.
And my son plays with a toy gun that knows
how to open and close its eyes and say Mama.
A peace
without the big noise of beating swords into ploughshares,
without words, without
the thud of the heavy rubber stamp: let it be
light, floating, like lazy white foam.
A little rest for the wounds—
who speaks of healing?
(And the howl of the orphans is passed from one generation
to the next, as in a relay race:
the baton never falls.)
Let it come
like wildflowers,
suddenly, because the field
must have it: wildpeace.

Fri, June 21 2024 15 Sivan 5784