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The Jewish Holidays of Yom Hazikaron and Yom HaAtzma’ut

The Jewish Holidays of Yom Hazikaron and Yom HaAtzma’ut

This month we mark Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day). For those of you who have never experienced these consecutive two days in Israel, know that they are qualitatively different from Memorial Day and Independence Day here in the U.S., particularly in the fact that they are conjoined. The beginning of Zion’s redemption and the Jewish people’s return to its land cannot be separated from the memory of those who died fulfilling our 3,500 year-old prayer—to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion, Jerusalem.

On Yom Hazikaron, places of entertainment are closed. Radio and television stations play programs about Israel’s wars. An air raid siren plays twice, stopping everyone and everything in their tracks as people get out of their cars and stand at attention in memory of those who died defending Israel. Hardly any Israelis remain untouched by the loss of a loved one or friend who died for our country. As Yom Hazikaron draws to a close, an official ceremony on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem returns the flag to full staff and Yom HaAtzma’ut begins. Twelve torches are lit for the twelve tribes of Israel by twelve distinguished Israeli citizens.

Then the entire mood shifts.

When I lived in Israel, Yom HaAtzmaut was the most joyous of occasions. The morning prayers I had recited so frequently over the years suddenly felt as if they had been answered in a true and visceral way as I thanked God for the miracle of the modern State of Israel. I sang Hallel with an intensity of emotion. The scent of Bar-b-que wafted throughout Jerusalem, while I celebrated in the Garden of Independence in Jerusalem.

Since my time living there, I have come to realize that these two holidays are not just Israeli holidays. They are Jewish holidays. They recognize the centrality of Israel for us as a people and the necessity to be connected to its existence.

So, how do we bring some the uniqueness of observing these days in Israel to our own lives here in the U.S.?

One way is to attend the community Yom HaAtma’ut celebration on Sunday, April 15th from 11am-5pm at the Levy Campus in Los Gatos.

There is also a Community-wide Yom Hazikaron memorial on Tuesday, April 17th at 8pm at the Santa Clara Convention Center on Great America Parkway.

Here are some other ideas:

Have an Israeli-themed meal with friends and/or family.

Have a Yom HaAtzma’ut seder. Here is one created by the Jewish National Fund:

Spread the word about wonderful things Israel has given to our world:

Learn about important Zionist figures:

However you decide to observe these two days, may it bring you a sense of connection to our holy land, the State of Israel, and the Jewish people!


Rabbi Ohriner