Season of independence

Having recently returned from an incredible mission experience in Israel (please see pages 14-15 with more detail about the trip itself), we are looking forward to hosting a delegation of volunteers from our Partnership2Gether community, Yoav. Our Israeli partners are arriving just in time for the next holiday ‘season.’ They are coming to the Lehigh Valley at a particularly significant moment in the Jewish calendar and will be here to help us commemorate Yom Hazikaron and then to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut.  I hope you will have an opportunity to meet our Israeli family while they are here at a number of special programs highlighting our connection to Israel.

The holiday season that I refer to is the period of time beginning with Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) followed by Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and then, Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day).

By the time you are reading this, our Yom HaShoah commemoration will have taken place on April 27. Also known as Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, it was established by the State of Israel to honor the victims and survivors of the Nazi effort to exterminate the Jewish people. Around the world, Jewish communities, schools and congregations will have gathered for meaningful programs and ceremonies, and to utilize this time as an opportunity to remind ourselves of the importance of remembering the pain and the tragedy, the lessons and the legacy of the collective memory that we inherit.

On Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, the State of Israel stops to remember, to mourn, and to honor their legacy. The contrast of Yom HaZikaron directly followed by Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, conveys a powerful message:  Israelis owe their independence and the very existence of the Jewish state to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for it. For American Jews, marking Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut strengthens our connection to Israel.

Our Jewish communities view Israel as a core element of Jewish life, and so we share a continuum of enriching opportunities and experiences that engage with, educate about, and celebrate Israel.

The day after the Declaration of Independence, Israel was at war with enemies who wished to eliminate her entirely. In the following seven decades, Israel has been forced to defend herself in numerous wars and military operations. It is important to take the time to remember and honor those who lost their lives defending Israel. 

This special holiday season is about people. It is about family.

Despite our collective sorrow, Israel is a land of hope and joy. On May 14, 1948, David Ben Gurion read aloud the Declaration of Independence, officially announcing to the world that the Jewish people had returned to our ancestral homeland for the third time. The children of Israel returned from slavery in ancient Egypt. The people of Israel returned from exile in Babylon.

The Jewish people returned from the diaspora, to become, once again, free in the land of our ancestors – an ingathering of exiles. Those who wanted to come home, now had a home to come to and a global family strong enough to help them make the dream a reality. As we are reminded in the words of ‘Hatikvah,’ “the hope of two thousand years, to be a free people in our land:  the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”

You helped to build Israel. Today, you help to keep it strong. Through your support of Jewish Federation, we are able to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable, and we advocate for those in distress. When Israel is threatened, we mobilize to come to her aid. Our global connection is also fostered by experiences for young Jews and programming that brings Israel to life in our community. We’ve helped hundreds of thousands of young Jews create personal connections to Israel through programs like Birthright Israel, MASA, and Shlichut, while building strong relationships between communities through Partnership2Gether. 

We have seen the immigration of over one million Jews from over 100 countries to the State of Israel. Jewish Federations have helped millions of immigrants move to Israel and start new lives. Even today, 500 Ukrainians a day are being absorbed, educated, set up with housing, and integrated into a vibrant society. 

We take great pride in Israel’s achievements in technology, health and medicine, the environment, social action, and culture, helping to make the world a better place. Again, I hope you will meet our family members from Yoav and take time this season to remember and to celebrate – Chag Atzmaut Sameach!