A Message for the National Holidays of This Week

Dear Touro Synagogue Family,

I pray you are well and anticipating a fulfilling summer. Though our synagogue building will be mostly out of use during the summer months due to the final stages of our exciting renovation, our clergy team and staff is here for you and will look forward to connecting often, whether for learning or coffee or support as needed. 

As you may know, this week included two of the most important days on the Israeli and global Jewish calendar, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmautYom Hazikaron is Memorial Day for fallen Israeli soldiers and victims of terror, those who have lost their lives during the project of building and protecting the State of Israel. There are many in our community who feel personal and immense pain on this day, who are remembering friends and family members or those whose memories they were raised upon, and who have loved ones whose lives were stolen by the violence of terrorism, even within the last 20 years. This year was of course especially poignant and painful because of the massive loss of life on October 7, the continual agony of our hostages and their families, and the ongoing war in which thousands of citizen soldiers are bravely serving. We send our love to all those who have been remembering such losses this week, as well as our endless gratitude for the ones who made and continue to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of the Jewish people.  

Yom Haatzamut is Independence Day, the anniversary of the signing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948, an articulation of a vision that many, including this rabbi, continue to find inspirational and compelling. I strongly encourage you to read it and let it fill you with pride, for a vision of a democratic Jewish state that is still struggling to be fully realized and it, in many ways, a miracle already.  Usually, this is a day of tremendous celebration in Israel and across the Jewish world. This year, it was no doubt more muted, but the feelings run just as deeply.  These two days, Memorial Day and Independence Day, are adjacent to one another in order that we never forget the sacrifice it took to establish Israel and make it a reality for all of us. 

It is also important for us to be aware that May 15 is a day of mourning for Palestinians known as Nakba Daynakba is Arabic for catastrophe –  which commemorates the beginning of the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, a war which precipitated mass displacement of the Palestinian population of the newly partitioned land. This displacement occurred both because many thousands of Palestinian families fled their homes to escape the war, expecting to return when the Arab coalition that invaded Israel on May 15 defeated the fledgling Jewish State, and also because some were driven from their homes by violent force. Of course, that defeat never happened because Israel successfully defended itself against 5 Arab armies, ending in a UN brokered ceasefire, and so these Palestinian families began a new chapter of their lives as refugees, a limbo that for some continues to this day.

The succession of these sacred days for the two peoples of this one land are emblematic of the immense challenge before us: knowing and being proud of our own astonishing Jewish story of resilience and courage, and also knowing that ours is not the only story, not the only truth.  There are many Jews in Israel, among them our organizational partners, who are striving to raise consciousness and empathy for the story of the Nakba, and there are also coexistence groups who are trying to breed understanding of the Jewish story of indigeneity  to this land among Palestinians. It is holy work, heart wrenching as people try to understand one another’s agonizing history and find common ground. And I believe it is the only work that will build a new future for which we so desperately yearn.

At the end of this full week, I find myself so grateful for the service of the heroes of Israel who have made the ultimate sacrifice; so deeply committed to the Israel described in its Declaration of Independence and moved to continue to participate in that building project along with passionate Israeli of every background and religion; and so eager to engage in the difficult heart work of holding both of these national stories and finding ways for them to live in the same book. I hope you will join me in these efforts, and as always I invite your conversation and sharing.

In closing, please take 5 minutes to watch (or rewatch) this profoundly beautiful musical video, created in December and shared recently at our community’s Yom Hazikaron event this past Monday.  It is of 1,000 Israeli musicians of every ethnicity, religion, age, and gender gathered in the ancient amphitheater of Caesarea, praying and singing for the captives in Gaza, accompanied by many of the captives’ families. It is an expression of the most beautiful aspects of Israel – its national and familial solidarity and pride, its passion and purpose, its artistic and technological ingenuity, its ancient roots, and its modern creativity, which is apparent both through the very creation of the project by Talya Yarom, and the beautiful lyrics by the legendary “composer of dreams, poet of hope,” Ehud Manor

We will sing Manor’s words on Sunday at our Annual Meeting, his articulation, inspired by the final words of our Passover seders, of what can be bashanah habaah, next year when a better time will arrive. May we all say to that, “Amen,” and may our captives be released and an end to the war come soon.  Am Yisrael Chai.

Prayerfully and with wishes for a restful Shabbat,

Rabbi Katie Bauman