By Josh Traulsen, Alumni Engagement Manager

This is a photo from my last trip to Israel as a Birthright trip leader:

There are three Israeli holidays that always sneak up on me.

I always feel like I have a good handle on when the High Holidays, Hanukkah, and Passover are happening, but I almost always feel like Yom Hashoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom Hatzmaut always come out of nowhere.  SO this year, I decided to do a little more research to learn more about the history of these observances and what I can do to participate.

Yom Hashoah, “The Day of Remembrance”

Wednesday, May 1st 2019

Within 30 seconds of research (googling), I learned something new! Yom Hashoah, the day where we remember the victims of the Holocaust is not actually the full name of the occasion. The full name is “Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah“– literally the “Day of (Remembrance of) the Holocaust and the Heroism.” And not only that, but It is marked on the 27th day in the month of Nisan — a week after the seventh day of Passover, and a week before Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers). In the US, many communities hold ceremonies where prayers are read and in some instances, names of those who died are read out loud, sometimes for 24 hours straight.

This immediately got me thinking about all of my past experiences, and I don’t know that I have ever acknowledged those who resisted and fought for their own and others’ survival. As I dug deeper, I learned about how Holocaust education has transformed over the years. I learned that originally, education focused on the Nazis and the victims. Young Israelis who were alive in the ’50s, when this day was put into law, did not feel so much empathy for the victims who they felt “went like lambs to the slaughter.” Based on this sentiment, the Israeli government shifted its educational focus to include those who resisted and those who rescued.

Based on everything new I learned,  I have set a challenge for myself of sharing one little-known hero of the Holocaust with my friends and family each day for the week leading up to Yom Hashoah.  If you are interested in learning more about this day, you can check out My Jewish Learning online, and if you are interested in learning more about how to be your own educator and facilitate some of your own discussions around this day, you can check out Zikaron BaSalon, which is a great resource for program ideas and support!

Yom HaZikaron, “Israel Memorial Day”

Wednesday, May 8th 2019

This day is one that I have never really commemorated here in the states. Yom HaZikaron, the memorial day for those who gave their lives on active duty in the Israeli army, is a very important day in Israel.  I don’t know a single Israeli who does not personally know someone who was killed in service to the country. I am so proud to live in a time when the Jews have an army and a country of our own, but recognize that this came at great cost.  

I think back to the Birthright trips that I led when I worked for Hillel on campus.  Each trip, we take all of the students to the Israeli National Cemetery, kind of like the Arlington National Cemetery of Israel. We take the students around and show them all of the grave markers and point out that they all look the same.  From the top general to lowest ranked enlisted person, Israel honors each person’s great sacrifice. The stones are all in Hebrew, and for the students who could not read Hebrew, the only thing they could understand was the ages. I remember being so struck to look around and see markers that showed people who died at an age where I was not old enough to drive a car or go out on my own, yet these brave soldiers fought and died so that if I ever choose to,  I could go and live in Israel and for once, not be in the minority.

In Israel, this day is marked with ceremonies and remembrances. Unlike in the US, where we have parties and avail ourselves with Memorial Day sales, in Israel, all forms of entertainment are closed. No movies, concerts, beach days, bars, or BOGO sales. This is a day for the country to reflect and remember. Each year on this day, a siren is played for two minutes at 8:00 P.M.and again at 11:00 A.M. when everyone stops what they are doing, stands at attention and holds silence in honor of those who died.

I wonder what it would look like to do this in the US? How great would it be if we could all just take a day to reflect, be with family, and not be bombarded by ads and entertainment?  This year. To mark this day, I will be leading the Moishe House staff in some reflection and silence so that we might bring some of this experience into our lives. I encourage you to find some time on this day to do the same for yourself!

Yom Ha’atzmaut, “Israel Independence Day”

Thursday, May 9th 2019

This day is a day of celebration, Israel’s Independence Day. It commemorates the declaration of statehood and serves as a day to celebrate life and freedom. Israel was founded on this day in 1948. Since this was such a relatively recent event when compared to the United States, we have actual recordings of the declaration of independence, which I have linked here if you are curious to hear them. To me, this day feels closest to our own 4th of July and therefore I will be celebrating in the same fashion!  I will be hosting a party for my friends to honor this day and be thankful that we have a country for the Jewish people! This is a great opportunity to use MHWOW to gather your crew together on a Thursday night to celebrate and do a little learning about Israeli culture. Like last year’s Eurovision contest winner: Netta.

Do you have any special traditions on any of these occasions?  Or some great MHWOW program ideas? PLEASE share them in our Facebook group!