Three Jewish Holidays
Two major events in the Twentieth Century added three holidays to the Jewish calendar. These holidays are coming up this month. Those soul-shattering and exalting events were the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel.
April 16, 2015 – Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day)
In 1951, the government of the State of Israel established the 27th of Nisan (April 16 this year) as the date to commemorate the Holocaust and its victims. After much debate, this date was chosen because it occurs between the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (which began on the first day of Passover, the 15th of Nisan, in 1943 – April 20) and Yom ha-Zikaron (Remembrance Day) and also falls during the traditional mourning period of the counting of the Omer. However, some ultra-Orthodox authorities in Israel opposed the institution of this observance, since it was the action of a secular state and because they did not favor setting aside a special day for the Holocaust.
Some congregations and individuals light six yahrzeit candles in memory of the six million Jews who were murdered. Many observances include recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish and Kel Malei Rachamim (Prayer for the Dead), parts of the traditional service for mourning the dead.
In Israel, the day is observed by the closing of theaters and places of entertainment, schools, and most businesses. Wreath-laying ceremonies are held at Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The Israeli rabbinate has decreed the fast day of the 10th of Tevet (January 1, 2015) as the Day of Kaddish, on which Jews pray and study in honor of the yahrzeit (memorial anniversary) of relatives who were victims of the Holocaust but whose date of death is unknown. In the United States, Holocaust Remembrance Day is usually observed on April 19 (or the nearest appropriate Sunday), the day on which the Warsaw Ghetto uprising broke out according to the civil calendar.
April 22, 2015 – Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day)
Yom ha-Zikaron (Remembrance Day) is a memorial day for those who died fighting for the State of Israel. It is observed on the Fourth of Iyar, the day before Israel Independence Day.
Following the Kaddish after Aleinu in the morning service, a memorial candle is lit and Psalm 9 (“A Cry for God’s Justice”) is read. This is followed by Yizkor (May [God] Remember) for the war dead, the Mourner’s Kaddish by relatives of those killed, and the recitation of El Malei Rachamim. These additions to the regular liturgy are concluded with Psalm 144 (“Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for battle and my fingers for warfare,” – ISV).
At 11:00 A.M., sirens are sounded throughout Israel, signaling two minutes of silence and the virtual cessation of all activity throughout the country. In addition, a memorial ceremony is held at the Mount Herzl military cemetery, flags are flown at half-mast, and places of entertainment are closed.
April 23, 2015 – Yom HaAtzma’ut (Israeli Independence Day)
Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s “Independence Day,” falls on the fifth of Iyyar, the month after Nisan, on the day in 1948 (May 14, 1948) that Israel declared its formal establishment. It is a day commemorated with fireworks, dancing in the streets, and a variety of official ceremonies and public entertainment. Until 1967, the major event was an annual military parade, but this was canceled in response to many complaints that it was stressing human heroism and power rather than the miraculous and spiritual element of the return to Zion.
At the conclusion of the day, Israel highest honor, the Israel Prize is granted to individuals who have made special contributions to Israeli culture, intellectual life, and science. Other events include the International Bible Contest for Jewish Youth and the Hebrew Song Festival. In years when the Fifth of Iyar falls on a Saturday or Friday, Yom ha-Atzmaut festivities are held on the previous Thursday to avoid public desecration of the Sabbath.
Some congregations in Israel celebrate Yom ha-Atzmaut with an evening service that opens with psalms of thanksgiving (usually Ps. 97, 98, and 107) and ends with the blowing of the shofar and a prayer that soon they will hear the shofar announcing the arrival of Messiah. A festive meal is held with singing, lighting of candles, and even (in some traditions) Kiddush; during the Grace after Meals, Shir ha-Ma’alot is sung to the tune of Hatikvah, the national anthem of Israel. The next morning, psalms added on the Sabbath and festivals are recited. Hallel is said, though there is controversy among the Orthodox as to whether to include the accompanying blessing. This reflects the tension between the desire to praise God for Israel’s independence and the hesitance of either deducing a divine command to do so or making a major festival on a day not authorized by ancient tradition.
Some congregations take out the Torah and read three aliyot (blessings) (Deut. 7:12–8:18), followed by the same haftarah (prophet) portion that is read on the last day of Passover in the Diaspora (Jews living outside of Israel) (Isa. 10:32–12:6).
In the Diaspora, Yom ha-Atzmaut is celebrated with a variety of parades, cultural events, fairs, and public ceremonies designed to foster solidarity with fellow Jews in the State of Israel.
The founding of the State of Israel is in and of itself a miracle. Its continuing existence though the wars it fought since then and will fight in the future is also a sign of divine intervention. It also is living proof that God is a person who is not capricious; He is one who keeps His promises.
Just as God has continued to stay faithful to us, we also need to stay faithful to Him.
– From KHouse.Org