April includes several Jewish holidays and commemorations that were first observed in the 20th century, including Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israeli Memorial Day, and Israeli Independence Day. These moments are ones of memory and sadness as we recall the suffering and loss of the Jewish community, and also look with amazement and wonder at the rebirth of the State of Israel and its place in modern society.
In 2002, I had the opportunity to spend the year studying abroad in Israel at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It was a transformative experience that led me on my path to the rabbinate, and also shaped much of my personal Jewish identity and relationship to Israel. That April, as we arrived at these moments of commemoration, I found myself experiencing a new sense of connection to them. Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance day) became more real after visiting YadVashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) was more solemn and serious than I remember – particularly because America’s Memorial Day is mostly known as a day off and a time to BBQ. Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Israeli Independence Day) was one of my favorite moments in downtown Jerusalem, with lots of exuberance and energy. Unlike the small celebrations in my synagogue as a child, this moment was one of national identity. For me, it was a moment where I completely and fully understood the “peoplehood” of Jewish identity.
That year was also my first exposure with the Prayer for the State of Israel, which was not typically read in my childhood synagogues. This blessing, written in 1948 by Rabbi Isaac Herzog and author S.Y. Agnon, was first published in the Ha’aretz newspaper in September of that year and now is commonly read all over the world in synagogues every Shabbat morning. In this way, just as during the Passover Seder the retelling of the Exodus story brings us back to relive that moment, the prayer for the State of Israel brings us back to that moment of Israel’s beginning so that we can also join in that journey.
One of the opportunities of the pandemic is that so many amazing Israeli rituals will be available via streaming this year. As we approach these moments, I invite you to take the opportunity to see these rituals through the eyes of our Israeli family. To that end, I offer a couple of resources to enhance your commemorations this year:
April 7th at 1pm, Yad Vashem will livestream Israel’s national commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
April 8th in the late afternoon, the Jewish Federation of Western CT will also be livestreaming a commemoration ritual involving leaders from various synagogues in the region. You can find information about that at: https://jfed.net/events- calendar/yom-hashoah-holocaust-remembrance-day-2/
April 15th at 7pm, Jewish Federations of North America will host a Yom Ha’atzma’ut ritual with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
If you would like to consider adding the Prayer for the State of Israel to your own spiritual practice during this time, I also invite you to do that. I hope you will find it to be a meaningful opportunity to find connection with Jews around the world.
The Prayer for the State of Israel reads in part, “Guard Israel in the abundance of your love. Spread over it the shelter of your peace. Send forth your light and truth to those who lead and judge it, and to those who hold elective office. Establish in them, through your presence, wise counsel, that they might walk in the way of justice, freedom and integrity.” As we enter into this month and these modern rituals of remembrance, memory, and celebration, may Israel continue to be blessed with love, peace, and light. And, may our connection to Jews around the world remain strong as we all walk together toward justice, freedom, and integrity.