Israel’s 75th Yom ha-Atzma’ut Memorial and Celebration -- in Modi’in - Blog #4 (2023)
It was something special to be here -- I was blessed to attend an outdoor youth program and special Arvit for a combination memorial/celebration. During the day, Israel observed Yom ha-Zikaron, Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers. The Times of Israel story led with the numbers: “Israelis stand in silence as sirens mark 28,468 fallen soldiers, terror victims.” Even now, as Israel has reached the 10 million population mark, the US, at 325 million, is 32 times its population. (In previous generations the multiples were much higher.)
God blessed me in that for reasons unknown, I decided to venture out to another synagogue -- in the park opposite the Kaiser Center. (See previous blogs.) I watched as about two dozen children -- from ages about 6 to 12 -- were preparing with the blue and white flags of Israel outside the shul. They were exclusively from the families from the synagogue. What followed was touching and inspirational. All in all about 200 adults and teens -- along with more than a half-dozen soldiers from the congregation -- observed a presentation by about 40 children.
Opening with beautiful words from the rabbi about seizing moments in history, the children led readings, and danced and sang. (See videos.) We listened to poems and stories recounting 50 years since the 1973 Yom ha-Kippurim war. The mood was not fear or despair -- but hope, faith, perseverance, confidence, and celebration.
After about an hour, we gathered for Arvit. The sanctuary seats about 100 men and 45 women. This mechitzah was the most inviting of those I had seen so far this year. The division was not front to back, nor were the women behind a thick divider making it hard for them to see. Rather, the division was side-by-side, separated by a wooden lattice.
More than 200 Jews, mostly in their 40’s and 30’s and with some youth and a few seniors, celebrated and prayed. This is a true modern-Orthodox spiritual zionist congregation. They -- we -- chanted Hallel, which opened with a guitar. The ru’ach was joyous and uplifting, filled with praises to Hashem. (Below is a video of a portion of the service.)
The service ended with a surprise -- the sounding of the shofar -- a teki’ah gedolah. One of the many functions of the shofar was as a call for gathering our exiles. It is likely this is the meaning of the shofar blast on Yom ha-Atzma’ut.
Afterwards I decided to walk downtown, to what is known as the Ma’ar (I am not sure what it stands for.) The main street of the Ma’ar is lined with shops -- eateries, grocery stores, candy and nuts, Judaica, a bank, etc. The middle is a park/path … I have attached a short video of a secular celebration with music and lights.
On Yom ha-Atzma’ut morning I went to my third shul; it was similar to the one I attended the previous night. Filled with young Modern Orthodox, here the women were separated on the side by sheer white drapes. It was not as spirited as last night’s, but that may be due to the evening / morning dichotomy.
The afternoon featured a family BBQ. Ezra, Shiri and their children drove down to Micah’s place. Alyssa and Alyssa’s father cooked a tasty lunch featuring meat, chicken, and hot dogs with salad and corn on the cob. Later we all went to the park. Before, during, and after lunch, Israel’s Air Force flew over the area. (Below is a brief video.)
All-in-all, being here for Yom ha-Atzma’ut is an incredibly meaningful and proud experience. These young men and women, many now fathers and mothers, have for three to four decades have deeply experienced and given meaning to life in Israel. Some are immigrants; others had their fathers and mothers, even grandfathers and grandmothers, who go back to the initial existential threats that Israel faced. Most have relatives who died in the wars. They inculcate sadness in their memorials, but with extraordinary pride and joy, with a deep hope for the future, they celebrate the present.
As I recall, the last time I spent Yom ha-Atzma’ut in Israel was in 1981. TZaHaL would soon be making incursions in Lebanon to battle the then-entrenched PLO. Sadly, I have no recollections of Yom ha-Atzma’ut 1981. I may not be able to remember all of my past, but now I, too, am living in the present, sharing hope for Israel’s future, with the youth of Israel.