Making the Journey Meaningful
The 7-week period between Pesach and Shavuot known as S’firat HaOmer (Counting of the Omer) marks a type of spiritual journey of the Jewish people, beginning with liberation from slavery and culminating with the receiving of the Torah. This journey is perhaps felt most poignantly in Israel, where the nation moves, together, from the celebration of Pesach to the commemoration of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), eventually leading to Shavuot.
The Yachad Program for Jewish Identity brings content to the journey, developing experiential programming for every age group, for each of these special days, enabling secular Jews throughout the country to deepen their identity as Jewish and Israeli individuals, families and communities.
The Importance of Remembering
Zikaron B’Salon (Remembrance in the Living Room) was launched in 2011 as way for Holocaust survivors and their children to share their stories in small, intimate surroundings, so that new generations of Israelis can hear them firsthand and vow to Never Forget. After holding virtual events last year, Yachad facilitators were able to once again return to the in-person version, hosted in people’s homes and parks all across Israel. These events targeted different age groups, ensuring that both adults and teens were able to connect, to learn, and to share in preserving our collective remembrance of the Holocaust.
In Eilat, local Yachad coordinator Edna Lowenstein hosted an event in her home, in which participants heard testimony from a local Holocaust survivor who had throughout the year been the recipient of regular Shabbat food parcels from the local Yachad volunteer squad. “Some of the attendees had met him while delivering challah or cake, but they didn’t know his life story. The connection they already shared made the entire event much more personal and meaningful for everyone involved,” Lowenstein said.
The Pain and Joy of Building a Jewish State
The transition from Yom HaZikaron to Yom Ha’Atzmaut marks the pain and euphoria of building a Jewish State – the tremendous price paid for living as “a free people in our own homeland.”
Yachad personalized community initiatives, empowering youth to create relevant programming connected to people in their own backyards. Nechama Alcoby, the Yachad facilitator in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, worked with 11th and 12th graders from a local secular high school to create a ceremony focused on a young man from the neighborhood who was killed in a terrorist attack. “We invited family members, teachers and friends to speak about the qualities that made him special, interspersed with relevant songs and readings,” reported Nechama. “The evening was very uplifting.”
Israelis celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut in many ways – attending community ceremonies, enjoying hikes with their families and barbecues with their friends. The local Yachad coordinators imbued many of these gatherings with added value, empowering families to connect to what it really means to live as Jews in our own country, infused Jewish content into community-wide ceremonies, organized day trips to places rich with Jewish history, and ran scavenger hunts and quiz games for families, centered around Jewish and Zionist themes.
Finding Light in the Darkness
This year’s Lag Ba’Omer celebrations turned, very literally, from unbridled joy to national mourning overnight.
Although the evening activities took place as planned, bringing young and old, secular and religious together round the bonfires to celebrate their common heritage together, the horrifying tragedy that took place at Meron in the middle of the night left the Yachad coordinators reeling, like everyone else. They scrambled quickly to turn pre-planned events like the traditional Lag Ba’Omer parades, hikes and other activities into opportunities through which to mourn the 45 individuals who were killed and to find ways of encouraging national unity, praying for the wounded, organizing blood drives for the victims, and coordinating Shabbat meals for the grieving families and the first responders on the scene.
“On the morning of Lag Ba’Omer, everyone was grieving the senseless and incomprehensible loss of life,” said Shay Nave, the Yachad Program’s national director. “Our Yachad coordinators strove to harness that grief and connect the nation to the spirit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, in whose merit we celebrate Lag Ba’Omer, and who emerged from a cave after 13 years with genuine, unconditional love for his fellow Jews.”