Witnessing the observance of the Jewish holidays here in Israel has probably been one of the greatest highlights of the last ten months. I walked down the middle of normally very busy roads on Yom Kippur, and I saw giant chanukiot being lit on the sidewalks on Chanukah. I saw people of all ages wearing costumes on Purim, and I celebrated Passover, the Exodus from Egypt, in Jerusalem. Most recently, I have sensed the unity that is made so distinct by Israelis during the days of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for Soldiers), and Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Independence Day).
Just a couple of weeks ago, I attended a program at Yad VaShem (the Israeli Holocaust Museum) to honor Yom HaShoah. It was a very emotional program with a remarkably large attendance. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in addition to many others who are important to Israeli government and society. This year, they highlighted the plight of children during the Holocaust. They chose 6 people who were child survivors of the Holocaust to tell their stories and light 6 torches in memory of the 6 million. It was an incredibly moving event.
More recently, I attended another Israeli program honoring Israel’s soldiers as well as Israel’s 61st birthday! It was an event that combined Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzma’ut. Israeli soldiers in many different uniforms paraded around with Israeli flags in unique formations. They also took the opportunity to celebrate the city of Tel Aviv’s 100th birthday this year. On the eve of Yom Ha’atzma’ut, it seemed like everyone in the city of Jerusalem was out in the streets celebrating. There were bands playing while kids and adults with silly hats and glow sticks ran up and down the streets spraying shaving cream all over the place. There were also hot dogs (kosher ones, of course!), drinks, and souvenirs for sale. When it got very late, a few friends and I found our way to a street party where a DJ blasted techno music and Israelis in their 20s and 30s danced and drank the night away while waving around (and some even wearing) Israeli flags. I don’t think that’s something I’ve ever experienced in the U.S. on the 4th of July!
People here tend to call these “Yom’s” the secular Israeli High Holy Days. And they truly are holy days to Israelis and are taken extremely seriously. To be a soldier is a great honor and is given incredible respect on each of these days, especially Yom HaZikaron. It’s not too difficult to get used to constantly seeing soldiers carrying guns half their size on their backs walking down the streets every day. But their presence and their contribution to Israeli life is always felt and a source of great pride here. For more information and a different perspective, check out the following: http://makom.haaretz.com/blog.asp?bId=142
Well, now I only have 2 more weeks of classes, followed by 1 week of final exams. Then I must pack and make my way back home. The cantorial students have one more concert to deliver this Thursday as a showcase of some of the Israeli art music we have learned about this semester. I have a lot of work to do, and I hope I can get it all done in a timely fashion without too much stress! I look forward to seeing you all soon as I return home in less than a month, but I think I will miss Israel!