I spent my third year of university at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. That year, I tried to fully immerse myself in Jerusalem and the rest of Israel. I rode the buses and toured the country, shopped in the Jerusalem shuk, hung out in cafes and the cinematheque, and attended different cultural events. One of those events that I was fortunate enough to get tickets to was the Yom Hazikaron commemoration on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem’s military cemetery. This is Israel’s main ceremony on the Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers. Throughout the land the day begins in the evening of the 4th of Iyar with a siren, and then the next morning there is another siren. People all over the country stand up straight in silence. (Cars pull over to the side of the road and the people get out and stand up). On Mount Herzl there was a speech by the president and prime minister and a torch lighting ceremony with members of families who have lost loved ones in battle. After the service, the cemetery is filled with people laying wreaths on the graves of their loved ones. It was very moving to witness a country coming together to remember.
That night, right after sundown, as the 4th of Iyar becomes the 5th, a strange thing happens. Flags raise from half-staff up the flagpoles, the music on the radio switches from somber to festive, and on Mount Herzl a new ceremony begins—a celebration with singing and dancing. The mood of the country changes immediately. This is the beginning of Yom Haatzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. That year I went to downtown Jerusalem and participated in folk dancing in the streets. There was singing and reveling, and the next day was a day of barbecue in the parks of Jerusalem.
Yom Haatzmaut is set because the 5th of Iyar is the day that David Ben Gurion declared Israel to be an independent state. But, why did the government of Israel choose to have the sad day of Yom Hazikaron immediately preceding the joyous day? I think it is to show that life is often like that. Sadness leads to joy, struggle leads to redemption. (This mood is captured in the classic poem “The Silver Platter” by Natan Alterman. This poem is often read at these ceremonies. See below.)
This year at Holy Blossom we will be commemorating Yom Hazikaron on April 22 at 6 pm in the Herman Chapel. We will then go directly into Yom Haatzmaut. Our Shinshinim, our young Israeli guests, will be participating in the services. After the services please join us in the Philip Smith foyer to continue the celebration with Israeli folk singing led by the acclaimed singer Yitzchak Argaman and great Middle Eastern food.
The Silver Platter
And the land grows still, the red eye of the sky slowly dimming over smoking frontiers
As the nation arises, Torn at heart but breathing, To receive its miracle, the only miracle
As the ceremony draws near, it will rise, standing erect in the moonlight in terror and joy
When across from it will step out a youth and a lass and slowly march toward the nation
Dressed in battle gear, dirty, Shoes heavy with grime, they ascend the path quietly
To change garb, to wipe their brow
They have not yet found time. Still bone weary from days and from nights in the field
Full of endless fatigue and unrested,
Yet the dew of their youth. Is still seen on their head
Thus they stand at attention, giving no sign of life or death
Then a nation in tears and amazement
will ask: “Who are you?”
And they will answer quietly, “We Are the silver platter on which the Jewish state was given.”
Thus they will say and fall back in shadows
And the rest will be told In the chronicles of Israel