Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut: From Despair to Joy

By Naomi Lasky, Board Member for the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey

Imagine if in an instant, everyone on I-95 simply stopped their cars and stepped out to stand together one morning every year. That’s exactly what happens in Israel on Yom Hazikaron.

At exactly 11 a.m. in the morning, sirens pierce through all other noise throughout the country. The entire nation stops, wherever they are, whatever they’re doing. It’s stunning. People who are driving stop their cars and get out. They stand there, silent, together, listening to the sirens.

It’s a serious, even somber, 24 hours when we all stop and acknowledge the true cost of freedom and sovereignty. From sunset through sunset, every radio and TV station is dedicated to sharing memorial programming honoring those who gave their lives.

But then – Yom Hazikaron gives way to Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.

Gone is the sober mood, as that next sunset calls up the whistle and boom of fireworks that replace the haunting wail of sirens. The difference between the two moments is startling – and exhilarating.

Yom Ha’atzmaut is a day off from school. A day of bonfires and lavish spreads of food and drink, of singing and dancing.

Everyone embraces the feeling of euphoria as Israelis affirm their statehood. No matter what differences stand between citizens every other day, on this day, it’s everyone’s land.

The important thing about both days is that everyone takes it very seriously.  Everyone knows and acknowledges that for the Israeli people, there is no such thing as taking any day for granted.

These holidays, they’re quintessential Israel. Many of us who were born and raised in North America may not even know about, much less recognize them.

My Personal Journey in Israel is Still with Me

As a Tanzman Fellow, I had the opportunity to visit Israel as part of a year-long service program sponsored by the Federation, to raise up a group of community-minded, Federation-minded leaders. The year I went, we spent ten days in April, coinciding with the holidays of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut.

Yom Hazikaron, celebrated this year from sunset on April 30 through sunset on May 1, is Israel’s Memorial Day. Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, follows directly after, from May 1 through May 2. Together, they represent a spectacular juxtaposition of solemnity and joy, especially if you’ve enjoyed the opportunity to experience these holidays as they are celebrated in Israel.

Yom Hazikaron is a day to remember and honor everyone who has given their life in the defense of Israel. For our Israeli cousins and extended family, no one is exempt from being personally affected by these sacrifices because in Israel, everyone serves in the military, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), three years for men and two years for women. And as the nation has been under siege from the day it was established on May 14, 1948, if someone doesn’t have a relative who died in Israel’s defense, they know someone who does.

Yom Hazikaron is a day when everybody – everybody – puts aside their differences, all for one cause. My husband puts it beautifully. He says, “Here (in the United States) we have military families. There, we just have families.”

For me, my most memorable experience with these holidays in Israel was the galvanizing moment that brought everything that was important to me about my connection to Israel into sharp focus. Since then, those feelings have never blurred or faded.

Connect with Your Israeli Family

My decision to serve as a board member of my Federation is motivated, in part, by my deeply-held belief in the importance of Jewish community and the important role our relationship with Israel plays in our lives. And if you’re so moved, this is a perfect time of year to consider your own connection to Israel.

Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut are the first of several successive holidays that call Israel to mind. They are:

  • Yom Hashoah - 4/23 - Holocaust Remembrance Day
  • Yom Hazikaron - 4/30-5/1: Israel’s Memorial Day
  • Yom Ha’atzmaut - 5/1-5/2: Israel Independence Day
  • Yom Yerushalayim - 5/23-24: Jerusalem Day

Thanks to the great partnerships and outreach undertaken on our behalf by the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, every one of us is invited to join in the local ceremonies and observances that mark these anniversaries and events. For families with young children, these holidays always provide special opportunities to explore our connections with extended family in Israel.

The Federation has a great community calendar that lists many of these celebrations and other programs in Monmouth and Greater Middlesex counties.

Join Us in Israel This Year

The Federation also offers opportunities for people of all ages to make their own journey to Israel. Programs like Birthright for youth 18-26, and the Winter Journey to Israel designed for families, couples and solo travelers, are just two that I highly recommend. Read more about these and other opportunities here.

If you have never had the opportunity to visit Israel, please consider making that a goal this year, and if you do, please contact the Federation to find out more about how we can help you.

Show your support for Israel and attend a Yom Hazikaron commemoration and/or Yom Ha'atzmaut celebration in the heart of New Jersey. Click here to see all the listings! 

Want to visit Israel? Learn about our winter journey to Israel and sign up now for early bird discounts.


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