Updated: Jun 21
Dates are very important in Israel - and not just the juicy kind! Keeping up with God’s calendar is one of the things that makes life in Israel so exciting. Fancy being aligned with Heaven! As well as the biblical feasts, there are several other special holidays. The early springtime ‘birthday of the trees’, or ‘Tu Bishvat’, for example, is a day to plant trees and enjoy nature, especially the beautiful almond blossom. Even this is connected to Scripture in some way, as the God of Israel speaks to the prophet Jeremiah through His beautiful creation (Jer. 1:11-12).
The rebirth of Israel can also be found in the Bible, perhaps most dramatically in Isaiah 66: “Can a nation be born in a day…?” Israel celebrates her Independence Day (Yom Ha Atzma’ut) just one day after her Memorial Day (Yom Ha Zikaron) for fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Both dates in the Hebrew calendar, the whole country literally moves from sorrow into joy. The blanket of blue and white flags all over the country, and already fixed to people’s cars, even before Memorial Day, annually fills the weary ones with hope.
“Erev (the evening of) Yom Ha Atzma’ut is the closest thing Israel has to New Year’s Eve,” was one Anglo-Israeli friend’s take on Israel’s 75th Birthday. “And the day itself is the closest thing we have to Christmas Day,” he added. “An Australian Christmas Day!” piped up another friend, since we were all enjoying a BBQ to celebrate. Family hikes and BBQs are a characteristic of Independence Day in Israel. This year in particular, it was wonderful to see the country come together with so much joy, following all the protests.
“I feel like a tourist!” said another Israeli friend, who is not accustomed to braving the crowds in the centre of Jerusalem on the evening before Independence Day. She was amazed at the numbers of people, the loud music, the plastic hammers, the dancing and the foam spray that we both tried to avoid!
With Israel’s Yom Ha Shoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) coming just a few days prior to Memorial Day, it really is a whirlwind of emotions, both highs and lows. Through it all, though, the nation is together. “Achdut” (togetherness or unity) is an important concept in Judaism, and at times like this you really feel it. The word is the same root as ‘echad’, the plural oneness used of Elohim (God). And of course the greatest commandment to love Him and love one another is the outflow of this Hebraic concept.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Deuteronomy 6:4
Following the tragic murders of a mother and two daughters, Lucy Dee, 48, Maia, 20, and Rina, 15, during the Passover holiday, husband and father Rabbi Leo Dee has called for unity. It is notable that one of the lives saved in the wake of the terrorist attack, as her family bravely donated Lucy’s organs, was that of an Arab citizen of Israel. Her husband explained that this was very fitting, as Lucy’s desire was for peaceful co-existence.
The Jewish community worldwide has launched an initiative in the memory of Lucy, Maia and Rina, called, ‘3 phone call Friday’. The idea was born when Yoni Golker, a friend of the family, visited the Dee Shiva (7-day mourning period) in London. He writes on social media that he “sat with the bereaved father of Lucy, and grandfather of Maia and Rina, Richard Shaw”. He explained: “We spoke about the tragedy, and then he turned to me and said ‘Do you know what I am going to miss most? It is the weekly conversation I would have with my granddaughter- it wasn’t just tokenism – it was a proper conversation! She would care to ask me all the small details – that is what I will miss the most...’” The initiative encourages everyone to call three loved ones every Friday. On the flyer, the word ‘achdut’ has been included, in Hebrew, as it cannot be fully expressed in English. This Memorial Day, coming less than three weeks after the terrorist attack that claimed the three beautiful Dees, I couldn’t help thinking of how this family was having to add their nearest and dearest to the long line of Israel’s fallen heroes. May Ha Shem (Israel’s God) comfort Rabbi Dee, his son Yehuda, 14, and two remaining daughters, Keren, 19, and Tali, 17. Both on Yom Ha Shoah and Yom Ha Zikaron, there are sirens to mark two-minute silences, for which every person, every car, every bus, comes to a complete standstill. Together. Together with Elohim (God) - through it all. And because no other nation has literally been raised out of the ashes, there really is nothing like this anywhere else in the world.