No day of the year in Israel is more agonizing than Yom Ha-Zikaron—the Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars. For 24 hours, the country’s unceasing sniping gives way to a pervasive sense of national unity not apparent at any other moment; honor and sanctity can be felt everywhere.
Israel’s many military cemeteries are filled to capacity with anguished families visiting the graves of loved ones. Restaurants are shuttered. One of the country’s television stations does nothing but list the names of the 23,000 men and women who gave their lives to defend the Jewish state, some of them killed even before independence was declared and the last of whom typically died only days or weeks prior to the commemoration.
Twice on Yom Ha-Zikaron, once in the evening and once again in the morning, the country’s air raid sirens sound. On sidewalks, pedestrians come to a halt and stand at attention, and even on highways, cars slow and stop; drivers and passengers alike step out of their vehicles and stand in silence until the wail of the siren abates. For two minutes each time, the state of Israel surrenders itself to the grip of utter silence and immobility. During that quiet, one feels a sense of belonging, a palpable sense of gratitude and unstated loyalty that simply defies description.
I mused on this fact as I read a recent message sent to students at the interdenominational rabbinical school at Boston’s Hebrew College, asking them to prepare themselves for Yom Ha-Zikaron by musing on the following paragraph: “For Yom Ha-Zikaron, our kavanah [intention] is to open up our communal remembrance to include losses on all sides of the conflict in Israel/Palestine. In this spirit, our framing question for Yom Ha-Zikaron is this: On this day, what do you remember and for whom do you grieve?”
… This posting is the beginning of an article in this month’s Commentary Magazine. Commentary does not permit full articles to be posted elsewhere, but has generously made the complete text of the article available on its website without charge, even for non-subscribers. To read the rest of the article, see the Commentary Magazine website at https://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/are-young-rabbis-turning-on-israel/.
For other articles referred to in this article and the exchange that they elicited, see also:
My original piece in the JPost:
My follow-up piece in the JPost
Dan Kaiman’s response:
Gil Troy’s response:
Scott Perlo’s response:
A blog response to Scott Perlo:
Justin Goldstein’s column in response on JewSchool.com
Daniel Allen’s response:
Gary Rosenblatt in the Jewish Week:
Arnold Eisen in the Jewish Week:
Daniel Nevins in the Jewish Week:
Rabbis for Human Rights Response: