Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut: Jews mark memorial, independence days

Young people lined up on stage, outdoors, with blue banners and Israeli flags on building behind stage

A ceremony for Yom HaZikaron, Ramla, Israel. Photo by U.S. Embassy Jerusalem, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET TUESDAY, MAY 7 and SUNSET WEDNESDAY, MAY 8: Commemorations in Israel begin at sunset on Tuesday, May 7, this year, for Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. In the Israeli calendar, Memorial Day (or Yom HaZikaron) is followed by the celebration of Independence Day (or Yom Ha’atzmaut), as a way to begin the celebration of freedom with a day-long solemn remembrance of the cost of that freedom. In the Jewish calendar, these days traditionally fall on the 4th and 5th days of lyar, the eighth month of the year.

Israel gained its independence in 1948, and an elaborate ceremony occurs each year on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. During this ceremony, members of the Israeli Parliament speak, dramatic presentations celebrate the nation’s history and soldiers march with the flag of Israel while creating formations like a Menorah. Traditionally, 12 torches are lit to represent the 12 tribes of Israel.

NEWS: Jewish communities worldwide mark Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. This article, from the Jewish Journal, highlights a variety of related events taking place in Florida this year.

During the day, many Jewish families celebrate similarly to the American Independence Day, with picnics, family gatherings and a generally festive air. (My Jewish Learning details some of the customs associated with Yom Ha’atzmaut.) In many areas, Israeli folk dances are organized in the streets at night.

READINGS

An Israeli government website now provides an inspiring list of readings for individuals and families marking these observances. Some are widely known and used, but—even if you regularly mark these occasions—you may find some interesting texts here that you haven’t seen before.

Here is the Israeli selection of readings for Remembrance Day.

And, here is the list of readings for Independence Day.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Jewish

Yom HaShoah: Jews, Israelis, young people worldwide remember Holocaust

Lighting row of candles.

Lighting memorial candles for Yom HaShoah. Photo by Meagan Schutter, courtesy of U.S. Air Force.

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, APRIL 11: An Israeli memorial for the 6 million Jewish deaths during the Holocaust is commemorated today as Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. In Israel, state-sponsored and synagogue ceremonies, moments of silence and a March of the Living all mark this solemn observance.

Literally “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day,” Yom HaShoah has been defined, in recent decades, as having a scope broader than the millions of deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their allies: The millions who mark this annual observance also remember the Jewish resistance during that era, they celebrate righteous acts in such dangerous times, and they emphasize the meaning of human dignity.

#PROJECT6MILLION: Interested in taking a vow of remembrance and a pledge for human rights? Check out Project6Million, a memorial movement that began with 24 American teenagers and their chaperones in April of 2011, after they had experienced the March of the Living on Yom HaShoah.

People walking with Israeli flags wrapped around them, in group

Walkers in the March of the Living. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MARCH OF THE LIVING: FROM AUSCHWITZ TO BIRKENAU

Each year for this day of remembrance, thousands of Israeli teenagers, Jews and non-Jews from across the globe embark on the March of the Living, a ceremonial walk that vividly contrasts the Holocaust death marches.

Fast fact: Since its inception in 1988, more than 260,000 people from 52 countries have marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Yom HaShoah.

YOM HASHOAH: THEN AND NOW

Yom HaShoah was inaugurated in Israel in 1953, and by the next decade, a siren of silence filled the country’s streets for several minutes each year on the 27th of Nisan. No public entertainment is permitted on Yom HaShoah, and all radio and television programs focus on the day’s memorial.

Did you know? Yom HaShoah was originally intended for Nisan 14—the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising—but was shifted to Nisan 27 because of the original date’s proximity to the start of Passover.

In 1953, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi signed the proposal for Yom HaShoah, enacting it as law. In Israel, Yom HaShoah is a national memorial day. Flags are flown at half mast; sirens blare in the evening and the following morning; services are held at military bases, in schools and by various organizations. Though no specific rituals are carried out on this day, memorial candles and prayers are common.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Jewish

Tu B’Shevat: Honor sustainable agriculture and trees for Jewish New Year

Grove of trees from above

Fruit trees in Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 10: It’s a New Year for Trees!

Tu Bishvat, the Jewish New Year for Trees, falls on the 15th day of the month of Shevat. This year, it begins on Friday evening, February 10. An ancient commemoration of the start of the agricultural year, Tu B’Shevat is one of four annual Jewish New Years.

Why record the age of trees? In centuries past, farmers would mark the age of their trees in order to calculate their eligibility for fruit harvest and tithing. According to Leviticus 19:23-25, a tree’s fruit may only be eaten after its fifth year: in the first three years the fruit is forbidden, and in the fourth year, the fruit must be set apart for God. When the State of Israel was reestablished, in 1948, interest in the ancient festival surged. Jewish people were farmers, once again, and the fruits of the land of Israel were celebrated.

THE TU B’SHEVAT SEDER

Today, the TuBishvat seder is observed in many Jewish households and synagogues. Many partake in the fruits and nuts of Israel, while reflecting on the need for sustainable agriculture. It is recognized that man depends upon the fruits of agriculture.

Did you know? Tu Bishvat is also called “Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot.”

In recent years, the Tu Bishvat seder has become a popular custom, and many synagogues hold one; it’s an opportunity to eat fruits, nuts and other produce of Israel; to consider the miraculous process by which we sustain our own lives by eating agricultural products; and to explore our responsibility to sustainable agriculture and the planet that feeds us.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Jewish

The Counting of the Omer is over: Jews recall giving of the Torah for Shavuot

Cheese blintzes cut and resting on a plate

Cheese blintzes—both sweet and savory—are just one of the many dairy treats enjoyed during Shavuot. Photo by Alpha, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET SATURDAY, JUNE 11: Flourishing greenery, aromatic flowers and baskets overflowing with fresh grains are just some of the signs of Shavuot, the joyous Jewish holiday that wraps up the seven-week Counting of the Omer and celebrates the day G_d gave the Torah to the nation of Israel. Originally an ancient grain-harvest festival, Shavuot gained its place in Jewish history when the giving of the Torah took place, on Mount Sinai. The Midrash accounts that Mount Sinai blossomed in full bounty in anticipation of the giving of the Torah on its peak, and in representation of that, Jews decorate synagogues and drape blossoms and vines for Shavuot.

Did you know? An omer is an ancient measure of grain.

This ancient holiday is also known as the Festival of Weeks, because the seven-week period of anticipation that started during Passover ends on Shavuot. The reason for the Counting of the Omer? To link Passover—the physical freedom gained with the Exodus—to Shavuot—the spiritual freedom gained with presentation of the Torah.

SHAVUOT: ‘FIRST FRUITS’

Stalk of wheat in field of wheat

Wheat—one of the ‘First Fruits’ of ancient Israel—has long been offered during Shavuot. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The ancient spring grain harvest lasted for seven weeks, and when that first harvest ended—at Shavuot—farmers would bring an offering of two loaves of bread to the Temple of Jerusalem. In the same manner, the first fruits of Israel (Bikkurim) were also brought to the Temple on Shavuot. In a grand display, farmers would fill baskets woven of gold and silver with the Seven Species—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates—and load the glittering baskets onto oxen whose horns were laced with flowers. These oxen and farmers would travel to Jerusalem, marching through towns and met by music, parades and other festivities.

To this day, many Jewish families display baskets of “First Fruits,” including foods such as wheat, barley, grapes, wine, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Barley and wheat harvests are intimately connected with the timing of Shavuot.

WESTERN WALL PROCESSION

Many customs are associated with Shavuot, among them being the consumption of dairy products, readings from the Book of Ruth and, for observant Jews, an all-night Torah study. Several explanations exist for these traditions. One is: Jews recall the night the Torah was given and how the ancient Israelites overslept. Some Jews today remain awake throughout the night, giving thanks for the Torah. In Jerusalem, the all-night Torah study ends with the procession of tens of thousands to the Western Wall at dawn.

Note: In Israel, Shavuot is celebrated for one day; in the rest of the world, it’s observed for two days.

DAIRY RECIPES: BLINTZES, GLUTEN-FREE & MORE

The specific reason for consuming dairy on Shavuot is unclear—some relate it to the non-kosher meat dishes of the ancient Israelites, while others refer to the Torah as King Solomon did, “like honey and milk”—and still others have additional reasons. No matter the reason, Jewish bakeries and shops overflow with indulgent cheese blintzes, cheesecakes, cheese ravioli and more in the days leading to Shavuot.

Make dairy treats at home with these easy-to-follow, DIY recipes:

  • Gluten-free cheese blintzes from JNS.org.
  • Yam, Goat Cheese and Rosemary Quiche from Haaretz.
Comments: (0)
Categories: Jewish

Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut: Israeli memorial day and celebration of independence

An Israeli flag and flag baners decorate the balcony of an apartment

Israelis fly flags with pride on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Photo released via Wikimedia Commons

MAY 10-12 in Western calendars: Back-to-back commemorations in Israel begin at sunset on Tuesday, May 10, this year. First, Yom Hazikaron is an Israeli memorial day recalling the cost of the nation’s freedom. Then, at sunset Wednesday, May 11, the solemn tone turns to celebration for Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day.

Given the strong connection the global Jewish community feels to the establishment of Israel, these holidays are widely marked around the world.

The ReformJudaism.org website has an array of thought-provoking reflections on these two holidays. To put these observances in context:

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, four new holidays have been added to the Jewish calendar—Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). In Israel, these holidays are observed as national holidays.

The Israeli Knesset established Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day that marks the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. It is observed on or near the 5th of Iyar in the Hebrew calendar, which usually falls in April. Then, the Knesset designated the day before Yom HaAtzmaut as Yom HaZikaron, a Memorial Day for soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the War of Independence and in other subsequent battles.

READINGS FOR THESE DAYS

An Israeli government website now provides an inspiring list of readings for individuals and families marking these observances. Some are widely known and used, but—even if you regularly mark these occasions—you may find some interesting texts here that you haven’t seen before.

Here is the Israeli selection of readings for Remembrance Day.

And, here is the list of readings for Independence Day.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Jewish

Passover: Jews gather ’round the seder table, share stories and history

Passover table set with candles, plates, glasses

A table set for Passover. Photo by April Killingsworth, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET FRIDAY, APRIL 22: Jewish families around the globe sit down to seder tables and remember the ancient, biblical story of freedom as Passover begins.

Recalling the liberation of the Jewish people in the Exodus, Passover is so named because of the 10th plague of ancient Egypt, which was, quite literally, a Passover. (The 10th plague killed firstborn children, but passed over the homes with Jewish children.) The Seder meal, undertaken after sunset, may also be attended by non-Jews or friends of Jews. The meal is replete with centuries-old rituals, stories, readings, songs and lively discussions. The Passover period of 2016 ends at sundown on Saturday, April 30.

Want fresh Passover recipes and more? Check out Bobbie Lewis’s FeedTheSpirit column, which features a mouthwatering take on charoset (plus a timely explanation of Passover’s annual date on the calendar).

Think Passover isn’t rooted in real food? Think again! A second FeedTheSpirit column features a guest columnist who grew up as a Jew on a sheep farm—and offers a real-food perspective that seamlessly links traditional perspectives with today’s most relevant issues.

Invited to a seder and not sure what to do? Learn about all of the Jewish holidays, what a seder looks like and so much more with Michigan State University’s recent release, 100 Questions & Answers about American Jews.

PASSOVER: CHAMETZ, ISRAEL AND THE SEDER

In the weeks and months before Passover, Jewish families meticulously clear their homes of any type of leavened grain, known as chametz. The removal of the final chametz can even be made into a fun ritual game, for which children often get involved. For the Passover meal, many Jews may cook with a separate set of cooking utensils and host dinners with a “clean” set of dishes—that is, items that are put aside especially for Passover and have never come into contact with chametz. Any leavened grains in the home may be temporarily sold to non-Jewish friends or neighbors.

Close-up matzah cracker, broken

A matzah cracker. Photo by Avital Pinnick, courtesy of Flickr

According to tradition, the Jewish people left ancient Egypt to follow Moses once they had been freed. They left in such a hurry, however, that the bread they baked for the journey out of Egypt didn’t have time to rise—and, thus, Passover breads are unleavened. Called matzah, the unleavened bread is consumed throughout Passover. In Israel today, Passover lasts seven days; outside of Israel, Passover is eight days.

Passover seders—typically, the most attended events of the Jewish year—last several hours or more. Table settings, foods served and even the ceremonial prayers used are precise and carefully selected. During the seder, the story of Exodus is commemorated through readings from the Haggadah. Multiple food courses are served during the meal, and children enjoy many of the songs and activities.

Did you know? The true intent of the Passover seder is to not only recall Jewish history, but to discuss the contemporary meaning of ancient Jewish wisdom, passing on that valuable information to the next generation of Jews.

During Passover, the Torah obligation of the Counting of the Omer begins. On the second day, the omer—a unit of measure—begins being used to count the days from Passover to Shavuot.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Jewish

Tu B’Shvat: Jews mark New Year for Trees; pontiff marks 50th of Nostra Aetate

A palm tree heavy with date fruits, both ripe and unripe

A fruit-bearing date tree. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

SUNSET SUNDAY, JANUARY 24: It’s a New Year for Trees!

On the 15th day of the month of Shevat, Jews observe Tu Bishvat—an ancient commemoration of the start of the agricultural year—and, in 2016, that day begins on the evening of January 24. (Note that holiday spellings may vary.)

The Jewish calendar has four New Years, and in centuries past, farmers would mark the age of their trees in order to calculate their eligibility for fruit harvest and tithing. According to Leviticus 19:23-25, a tree’s fruit may only be eaten after its fifth year: in the first three years the fruit is forbidden, and in the fourth year, the fruit must be set apart for God. When the State of Israel was reestablished, in 1948, interest in the ancient festival surged. Jewish people were farmers, once again, and the fruits of the land of Israel were celebrated.

Today, the TuBishvat seder is observed in many Jewish households and synagogues. Many partake in the fruits and nuts of Israel, while reflecting on the need for sustainable agriculture. It is recognized that man depends upon the fruits of agriculture.

POPE FRANCIS MAKES LANDMARK VISIT TO JEWS IN ROME

Pope Francis’s recent visit to Rome’s Great Synagogue made him the third pontiff in history to visit the building—and, this time, at the 50th anniversary of the Vatican’s Nostra Aetate. (Read more at Haaretz.com.) Last month, the Vatican released a document to mark the milestone anniversary of Nostra Aetate, with a text restating how Christianity is rooted in Judaism and emphasizing that the Church should not try to convert Jews. Pope Francis, who maintained a close relationship with the Jewish community during his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires, is aiming to convey a message of coexistence and mutual respect.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Jewish