Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s independence day, is my favorite holiday and the inspiration for the best thing that happens in Los Angeles all year long: the Celebrate Israel Festival! Annually, the Israeli American Council (IAC) teams with other Jewish organizations and sponsors to throw a massive celebration of all things Israel.
This year, 20,000 (!) people came together to celebrate Israel. The organizers’ creativity never ceases to amaze. Camels and carnivals and gaga, oh my! Feel free to vicariously attend through me.
“The Celebrate Israel Walk” kicked off the day. So many people came out to sing and dance down LA’s streets, clothed in blue-and-white wear and Israeli flags.
Never one to pass up an opportunity to dress in themed attire, especially when it comes to Israel, my friend Miri and I expertly demonstrate Israel Swag Style.
Rinat, the star of a popular Israeli children’s show, performed to an enthusiastic group of yeladim (kiddos).
Huge roller coasters and moon bounces, tons of carnival games and artists, Jewish organizations representing the whole of Jewish life, Israeli food and ice cream, drum circles, Israeli scouts, arts and crafts, and sooooo much more. I spent the entire day in the sunshine exploring and celebrating Israel.
For the grand finale, The Idan Raichel Project performed. Famous for fusing all the sounds of Israel, thousands danced and waved Israeli flags, creating a blue-and-white sea for as far as the eye could see.
Big kudos to all the organizers, some of whom I know and who inspire me with their enormous generosity and true love for Israel. What a gorgeous day! The best! I’m bustin’ with Jewish love and pride.
First Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Next Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day.
Then Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.
The order and proximity of these events to one another isn’t just stam, per chance or random. One informs the next, showing us the dark so that we can see light.
Yom HaShoah, celebrated today, memorializes the Holocaust, one of the most horrific expressions of human cruelty in the history of mankind where 6 million Jews were systematically murdered, eradicating 2/3 of European Jewry.
Anti-Semitism, the irrational hatred of Jews, persists as a bloody stain on the consciousness of humanity. While the Holocaust is the most dramatic example of this hostility in modern history—pogroms, crusades, inquisitions, massacres, and expulsions targeting Jews existed for centuries before World War II. Even now, Iran denies the Holocaust while simultaneously plotting a second one. Anti-Semitism runs rampant, unhidden and unashamed, throughout the Arab world. And European anti-Semitism plays possum, pretending to be dead only to jump up quite alive and bite, as we’ve seen in Hungary, France and the Ukraine in recent months.
Jews’ historical, moral and religious claim to the land of Israel cannot be disputed (unless one wants to contest archeological science and rewrite history, and some try). But, the atrocities of the Holocaust helped the rest of the world to “get up to speed,” and concede that the time had come for international, legal recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland. Millenia of displacement were quite enough. Jews needed to a safe place to call home and defend themselves, because the rest of the world could not be depended upon to behave morally and save them. After all, the perpetrators of the worst attacks on Jews in history were committed by the most “enlightened” and powerful societies of their day—the Hellenists, the Romans, the Germans, etc.
Yom HaShoah, we remember the horrors of the Holocaust, the danger of the diaspora, our homeless past.
But we are a different generation. Next Year in Jerusalem is us. We have a home. But it came with—and continues to come with—a price.
Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day comes a week after Yom HaShoah. To Americans who live far away from the realities of war, Memorial Day means BBQs and pool parties. But Israel’s compulsory military service means every Israeli knows a fallen soldier or victim of terror. The kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit rocked the country because he could have been anyone’s brother or son.
Freedom is not free, and Israelis understand this paradox intimately. Then, before we step on the glass and celebrate the marriage of the Jews to their beshert, Israel, we honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to create that precious reality.
On both Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron sirens blare across Israel. Everyone stops their car, stands at attention, and gives a moment of silence to honor and remember.
But then we celebrate. The day after Yom HaZikaron is Yom HaAtzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day. Solemnity shifts to joy, as the entire country takes to the streets to sing and dance.
Jewish couples marry under a wedding canopy or chuppah. A tallit, or prayer shawl, supported by poles creates this holy space. The traditional blue-and-white tallit inspired the design of the Israeli flag. How fitting then that across Israel, this flag flies, supported by poles over the heads of Jews and their beloved land.
Today we see how far we’ve come.
Yom HaShoah: We remember the 6 million victims and rebuke complacency, eyes open, lessons learned.
Yom HaZikaron: We remember those who paid the ultimate price to establish and protect our home, and ensure we are victims never again.
Yom HaAtzmaut: We celebrate the reunion of the Jewish people with their true love, Israel—the ultimate love story of a people who never gave up on their home, and the home that blossomed at its beloved’s return.
The reuniting of soulmates can take years, decades, lifetimes, or hundreds of lifetimes. We are the generation living the dream, and we are the generation charged with protecting it.
On Shabbat and most Jewish holidays, we’re encouraged to eat, drink and celebrate. But weekly feasts can all-too-easily slip into overeating, causing guilt, physical discomfort, and post-meal narcolepsy.
Kidding aside, this scenario hits close to home. After working in the entertainment industry for many years, I internalized the infamously impossible beauty standards that business demands. The result: while trying to eat as little as possible, I drank the Kool-Aid in large gulps.
At a certain point, I decided it wasn’t worth it. I gave up dieting and embraced intuitive eating, slowly learning to listen to and trust my body’s hunger and satiety cues.
Here are a few strategies I’ve developed over the years that allow me to participate in and enjoy holidays, without killjoy food drama.
Scope and pacing. How many times have I filled up on the first course, not realizing three more were coming? Ask your host what’s being served. Knowing the entire menu in advance will allow you to make informed choices. If you know her famous noodle kugel awaits, you might opt against a second helping of gefilte fish.
Take one plate of whatever you want. I love trying new foods and usually want to taste everything. I recognize though that however extensive the food spread, my body only physically needs one plate of food. So, I fill my one plate with whatever I want and grant myself permission to enjoy. In this way, I get to sample and participate, while enforcing a gentle boundary that protects me from overdoing it.
Only eat what you love. At my grandparents’ house growing up, my brother and I would put our plates on our heads after finishing all of our food. Ta da! Albeit cute, I’ve now excused myself from the “clean your plate” club. These days, I eat food that my body and I both love. I used to express appreciation to my hosts by eating more, even if I found the food mediocre. Now, rather than stuff myself to accomplish this, I use my words to say thank you.
People are the point. Shabbat allows us to stop and connect with Hashem and each other. That’s the whole idea. But, measuring and monitoring, and focusing on food kept me in my head and removed from the moment. Let food play a supporting role in the Shabbat scene and instead, prioritize people.
Ask for leftovers. Sometimes, you get a dish that’s particularly delish. When that happens, the inclination is to take more—seconds (and thirds!) The logic goes, “Who knows when I’ll have this awesome concoction again? I better eat it all while I can.” Here’s the thing, if you’re at a Jewish function especially, your host likely made too much, and she’s stressing about what to do with the leftovers. Ease her mind and yours by asking to take some home with you for later. Not only will you compliment your host’s cooking, you’ll spare yourself the impulse to overeat, knowing you can have more once you’re hungry again.
These tenets serve me in many food-oriented scenarios. Not only do they reduce inner dissonance and stress, they provide flexible guidelines that support healthy relationships with others and, most importantly, yourself.
Over the weekend, I attended a dear friend’s wedding. Glamorous and romantic, I couldn’t help but share my 3 favorite elements from her elegant soirée.
1. The Floating Chuppah.
Crowning the ceremony space, a white-on-white tallit floated in the air beneath an opulent chandelier, encircled by roses and white orchids. After the ceremony, the wedding area quickly transformed into a dance floor, but the chuppah remained afloat!
What I loved about this choice was that it allowed the couple to invite all of their closest family and friends to celebrate and dance with them, under their wedding canopy.
2. A Flurry of Petals
One of my favorite moments was when the band leader directed the guests to grab a handful of rose petals from the tables and throw them at the couple on the count of three. The magical result looked like a scene out of a snow globe.
3. The Israeli Touch
The bride wore a gown by an Israeli designer, and the Persian-Israeli cultural fusion made for untiring music choices, exuberant dance moves, and plenty of kebobs. (I even saw one guest skewer his sushi and eat it as a kebob!)