Here in Israel, the weeks immediately following the end of Pesach are like a manmade archipelago; a string of 3 commemorative days created after the formation of the State. The first is Yom HaShoah, (“Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day”) the day Israel established to commemorate the Holocaust. The second, separated by a week, is Yom Hazikaron (“Day of Remembrance for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Jewish Victims of Terrorism”). A day later falls the last commemoration, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.
This column is being penned after Yom HaShoah, to be posted erev Yom HaZikaron, meaning I write this somewhere from the water between 2 manmade islands; sink or swim, I will share what is uniquely my perspective on the days.
I’m an Observant Jew of the camp generally referred to as Religious Zionist. First and foremost my allegiance is, appropriately, to Torah. My transition to being shomer mitvot was greatly catalyzed by Zionism. Embracing HaShem’s promising the Land of Israel to Avraham Avinu and reaffirming this promise numerous times to the Avot and Moshe Rabbeinu, meant my recognizing the obvious: the Divine origin of the Torah entire. My path to observance was clear to me and though it has not always been simple, I have had absolutely no regrets in accepting ALL of Torah. For that matter, analogously, though Aliya has not always been simple, I have had absolutely no regrets with that decision either. Though I have what many may consider strong Zionist sensibilities and recognize each of the 3 dates, I am neither blind nor naïve and have a share of ambivalence for each day.
Yom HaShoah was originally meant to coincide with the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Fortunately someone looked up from Pesach cleaning and realized the problem: the Hebrew date was Erev Pesach. The chosen commemoration date was pushed off until the week following Pesach, to fall specifically one week before Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. On the morning of the day, at 10AM, a siren shrieks through the country. My initial response, as for many citizens, was to head for a “safe-room” as sirens have become synonymous with incoming missiles. Remembering the day, I stopped what I was doing and turned to Tehillim. The customary moment of silence seems an empty tribute to those who perished in the Holocaust for the “sin” of being Jewish. A secularist would say “Nature abhors a vacuum” but we know that it’s HaShem who despises wasted potential. The Kedoshim died as Jews, therefore if this day is in their memory, let’s honor them as Jews by learning and saying tehillim, filling those moments with Torah in the merit of those who died so we might live as Jews. Similarly, I apply this logic to Yom HaZikaron, the day dedicated to remembering the fallen soldiers and Jewish terror victims of Israel and around the world, when another siren stops the Nation. I pray, pledging to avenge the victims of terror and the soldiers lost defending Israel by living a more Jewish life. What is a more Jewish life? Fortunately, Shimon HaTzadik in Pirkei Avot is clear on the matter: More Torah, more mitzvoth, and more chesed.
My aforementioned ambivalence is because these days of commemorating the dead of our people were determined by politicians and not by Rebbeim and I understand the principled position of Hareidim who believe we should mourn the Kedoshim on long established days of mourning . Rav Weissmandl, Rav Schwab, and the Bobover Rebbe, amongst others, felt the Shoah should be commemorated on Tisha B’Av and wrote kinnot about the Shoah, to be added to the day’s liturgy, adding a powerful contemporary dimension to the mourning for the loss of the Temples. I am sure the Hareidim who do not recognize the State designated-day share in the nation’s lament on Tisha B’Av, following the dictates of these great Rebbeim.
That being said, to see the images of the entire nation coming to a standstill; to see the speeding cars on the nation’s highways come to a stop with drivers emerging to stand as one, to witness this act of Jewish unity augurs well for a time when the Nation will be united in Torah and joy rather than sadness.
As for Yom Ha’atzmaut, I state unequivocally I celebrate the day but despair the fact the State is as yet not a Torah state nor has it learned how to honor and embrace its Hareidi citizens whose Torah learning is greater than any “Iron Dome.” Perhaps the IDF acknowledged this by the system’s Hebrew name “Kipat Barzel.” I say a silent prayer this day as well, that the number of Kedoshim doesn’t grow and that Israel fully embraces its mandate, Torah, bringing Mashiach.
Unfortunately, these days are a Rorschach test to one’s relationship to Israel because it obscures the real issues: Honoring those who died for being Jewish and the geographic entity Israel- call it politically what you want-that provides a refuge for the world’s Jews in case “Never Again” recurs.