By Avigail Winokur
The transition from Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s national memorial day) to Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s day of independence) is a transition that can be awkward, messy, and often painful for those who have a deeply personal connection to Israel’s national day of mourning. The connection between the two days is often compared to the cliche of the “dark before dawn,” and other variations of that idea. While I think the comparison is well-intentioned, I also think that it is an inadequate representation of what the transition means. I think that the significance of the interconnectedness of Israel’s day of mourning and Israel’s day of freedom lies in the reality that without one, it is impossible for the other to exist.
Without sacrifice, we would have never achieved independence, and without independence, there would have been nothing to believe in deeply enough to die for. There is a sacred bond between loss and freedom, one which makes it extremely appropriate for the days to be tied together for eternity. As long as the Jewish state stands, so will the recognition that our independence is due to those on whose graves it lies on: those who have died for our freedom.
This year, these days were further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in the entire world being home-bound. As a result, no longer were the mourners able to visit the gravesites of their loved ones and honor their memories in person. No longer were the celebrations of independence covering Israel in a sea of blue and white. No longer was the air filled with smoke from the nearly religious obligation to barbecue on the day of celebration. Here, in the United States, no longer were we able to stand arm-in-arm with our brothers and sisters abroad. We couldn’t hold in-person ceremonies, both for the dead and for that which is very much alive.
As a result, many events were moved online. Yeshiva University held a Tekes Ma’avar (transition ceremony), to honor both Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. The ceremony was held via Zoom, as are most events in a world dictated by COVID-19. The ceremony featured religious leaders, Yeshiva University students, and alumni. The Tekes began with Elka Wiesenberg, SCW ‘20, who opened the ceremony by saying “that we must, from the bottom of our hearts pay tribute to all the sacrifice for the state of Israel, and thank God for the victories…[and] for the opportunities for the state of Israel.”
The ceremony continued with a siren honoring those who died. We then heard from two YU students who served in the IDF: Yehuda Benhamu, YC ‘22, and Lara Vhosburg, SCW ‘21. Sharing his thoughts, Yehuda said that “[he] felt privileged to be able to share a small part of [his] story with the YU community, and [felt] humbled by the amount the community as a whole appreciates [his] service and the service of all the men and women of the IDF… It was beautiful how so many Jews got together [in this] the challenging time, and celebrated our homeland in the [most] sincere way possible.” Lara, who believes in a two-state solution, discussed the matter of Israel being called an apartheid state. “I am so proud and excited to be an Israeli today…Israel is not an apartheid state. Arab-Israelis are in our universities, parliament, [on our] television [shows], and that is how it is supposed to be. Israel gives religious rights to all its minorities and respects their holy places,” she shared.
The ceremony continued with many remarks from various leaders of YU and other Jewish communities, along with renditions of Hatikvah (the Israeli national anthem), and the prayer Kel Maleh Rachamim (Prayer of Mercy). It ended with a concert by Eitan Katz, and everyone dance along from their locations all over the globe. Shlomit Ebbin, SCW ‘22, expressed: “Although we couldn’t physically be together, the program was able to create that sense of community we’ve all been missing. We learned together, we prayed together, and we danced together, and that was very special.” The Tekes was a beautiful balance of honoring those we have lost and our pride in our homeland. Arranged by a committee of students, the program made sure to walk the fine line of remembrance and revelry, all while remaining a COVID-19-approved Zoom event.