Religion & Beliefs

How Do You Celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut?

This weekend (actually Monday) brings yet another Jewish holiday, Yom Ha'atzmaut! Israel's Independence Day is celebrated on the fifth day of the month of Iyar, which is the Hebrew date of the formal establishment of the state, when members of the … Read More

By / April 20, 2007
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This weekend (actually Monday) brings yet another Jewish holiday, Yom Ha'atzmaut!

Israel's Independence Day is celebrated on the fifth day of the month of Iyar, which is the Hebrew date of the formal establishment of the state, when members of the "provisional government" read and signed a Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv. The original date corresponded to May 14, 1948.

So how should you celebrate?

Israelis celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut in a variety of ways. In the cities, the nighttime festivities may be found on the main streets. Crowds will gather to watch public shows offered for free by the municipalities and the government. Many spend the night dancing Israeli folk dances or singing Israeli songs. During the daytime thousands of Israeli families go out on hikes and picnics.

Yeah, basically, it sounds a lot like the fourth of July.  Which is cool and all.  But honestly, I've never been especially inspired by the Yom Ha'atmaut events I've attended.  Blue plastic Israel bracelets and cold felafel.

What I find more interesting is this:

The religious character of Yom Ha'atzmaut is still in the process of formation, and is still subject to debate. The Chief Rabbinate of the State (which consists of Orthodox rabbis) has decided that this day should be marked with the recital of Hallel (psalms of praise), similar to other joyous holidays, and with the reading of a special haftarah (prophetic portion). Most ultra-Orthodox Jews, in Israel and abroad, have not accepted this ruling, and some Orthodox Jews chant the Hallel psalms without the blessing which precedes it.

Hmmmm….

I'd never really thought about it before, but the creation of new holidays like Yom Ha Shoah and Yom Ha'atzmaut is a little bit complicated religiously.  I mean, if suddenly Christians decided to create a new Christian holiday…. that would seem weird to me (though one can argue that holidays like the fourth of July ARE Christian, since they get appropriated by churches and such.) 

But it's true, these are NEW holidays for us. And as such, since we live in a largely secular world, they don't feel so "religious."  We don't create much new liturgy for them, and we haven't had time for cultural traditions and religious rituals to evolve.  So I'm inclined to think of these holidays as secular. I tell myself they aren't "religious" because they grow from more cultural/political/nationalistic events than they do from say… the existance of miracles.  God's hand in the world.

Because I don't spend them in synagogue.

But think about it, plenty of other holidays stem from equally secular/cultural/military/nationalistic events.  Harvests and planting seasons, wars and liberation.  And not all of them are so ancient, really.

Purim was, if we believe the scholars, invented as a holiday to commemorate events that happened around 350 BCE,  And Hannukah didn't exist until about 500 years after that.  And both of them were created to celebrate national events, military events, legal events.

I can't help wondering if there were people hanging around in 200 CD, saying, "Yo, this Hannukah thing feels made up and new.  What's a holiday if I'm not supposed to gut a goat or something?"

All this to say that these ARE Jewish holidays, and that finding a meaningful way to celebrate them is important. Because we're the ones making them important. We're (whether we realize it or not) creating new rituals today… so that people hundreds of years from now will have old rituals. We need new foods, new games, new songs, new traditions.  We need to search our liturgy for relevent prayers and melodies. We need to come up with something better than blue plastic bracelets and cold felafel.

This is our Hannukah!