Israel at 72: A Love Letter from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Israel at 72: A Love Letter from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv

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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Taube Family Campus

Rabbi Talia Avnon-Benveniste, Director, Israel Rabbinical Program, HUC-JIR/Jerusalem
Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean, Taube Family Campus, HUC-JIR/Jerusalem 

Just like spring’s budding has been present in the background as we stay at home, distant from the glories of the season, so too Israel’s national holidays.  Our mini-cycle of Holocaust Remembrance Day, followed a week or so later with Memorial Day and Independence Day, is one of the most powerful ten days in the Israeli Jewish holiday cycle.

For decades, these ten days kept a distinctive state and civic character. Over time, and particularly in the liberal Jewish communities, or what is called here the Israeli Jewish Renaissance, these modern “Days of Awe” are searching for more spiritual and even religious meaning and custom.  

Our Israeli Reform Movement has dedicated the Shabbat between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial and Independence Days as Shabbat Tekuma, the Shabbat of our “re-establishment” our “getting up.” Our Reform Siddur added a special kiddush and special readings for tefillah, all of which are wonderful attempts to wed the ancient and the new. In lieu of Messianic meaning, we search for actual inspirational Hebrew poetry and prayer to build the society we hoped for all those years.

This Monday night, we gather to mourn and grieve as families, communities, and as a country. We offer our deepest sympathies to members of our extended HUC-JIR family, whose loved ones fell in battle and were victims of terror. We remember each one, each life a blessing.

Decades ago, the veteran Congregation Mevakshai Derech created a ceremony for moving from Memorial Day to Independence Day.  Some fifteen years ago, that idea was transformed into a Havdallah Service, in which we transition from mourning to celebration – or out of our terrible loss we recognize the gains.

First created by our Israeli rabbinical graduate Esteban Gottfried with his partners at Kehillah “Beit Tefillah Israeli,” this old/new ceremony has inspired many Israeli congregations and congregations worldwide to adopt this Havdallah service. It even includes the chanting of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in Haftarah cantillation! This Tuesday night, you can watch it on their livestream, or follow our Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism’s livestream version as well.

Last week, the lone emcee stood on the hilltop at Yad Vashem, the site of our National Holocaust Museum and Education Center, to lead a multi-screen ceremony. This week, most Israelis will watch the official yearly televised ceremony on Mt. Herzl, when the country also transitions from loss to triumph, symbolized in dance, inspirational speeches, flag waving, and more.

A special highlight is when 12 people, like the 12 tribes, will light the 12 torches representing the great stories of our country. We already know they will include musician Idan Reicher along with an Arab Israeli nurse fighting COVID-19, and many more who will symbolize our worldwide connections.

Yes, it is sentimental, and we allow ourselves to forget, for a moment, that there is so much to fix here in Israel. Every year, just on Yom Ha’azmaut, we celebrate with a full heart, gaining the strength to keep building and fixing. There is an alternative ceremony to Har Herzl that, year after year, recognizes those fighting for peace, social justice, and just solutions for the conflict, and more equity. Some of our HUC students will be there as well, keeping their distance from each other, but making their voices heard too.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu