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.