By DEAN M. SHAPIRO, Special to the CCJN
In Israel, one of the most solemn days of the year is immediately followed by one of the most joyous. Yom Hazikaron, a day of remembrance for the fallen soldiers of war and civilians killed in acts of terror (the 4th of Iyar), comes just before Yom Ha’Atzmaut, the Israeli Day of Independence.
On Wednesday, May 8, both days were commemorated at an evening event in the Jewish Community Center. Members of the Jewish Clergy Council of New Orleans were on hand to offer prayers and remembrances for the victims of war and terrorism since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, followed by a celebration of Israel’s independence afterward.
Rabbi David Gerber of Metairie’s Congregation Gates of Prayer opened the memorial service speaking about what Yom Hazikaron means to the Jewish citizens of Israel.
“On any given day in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem it may be noisy. The cars are honking, people are working and building and they’re bustling about,” Gerber began. “But on that day – and also on Yom Ha’Shoah – when the sirens go off – there is total silence. For a state full of Jews a miracle happened demanding that we all be quiet, just for a moment because of how sacred this day is. To remember those people who fought to ensure the safety of the State of Israel.”
Alluding to recent acts of terror during the most recent Yom Hazikaron, Gerber noted that many people were not certain whether to stand in silence or run for shelter. Sirens announcing real danger had been sounding throughout the week, he added.
“So, as we gather today on this Yom Hazikaron and we celebrate the strength and security of People Israel, keep in mind that we still have work to do to ensure our safety and security,” Gerber said, prior to sounding the traditional shofar. “It’s a call to remind us to focus our hearts, our thoughts and our prayers for the State of Israel and to all who have given their lives for her safety.” He then sounded the shofar for about 30 seconds as the audience stood in solemn respect.
Gerber went on to relate the history of the day of remembrance from its passage by the Knesset in 1963 and the significance of it immediately preceding the day of independence celebration. “Yom Ha’Zikaron is a reminder of what we lost and Yom Ha’Atzmaut reminds of what we’ve gained,” Gerber said. “The loss and the gain are intimately connected. They cannot be made separate from one another in the national memory of our people. Pain and joy are inexorably intertwined.” He then went on to read from Ecclesiastes 3:1-7 (“For everything there is a season”) and a memorial poem titled “Silver Platter,” written by Israeli poet Nathan Alterman and inspired by the words of Chaim Weizmann.
Gerber was followed by his predecessor at Gates of Prayer, Rabbi Emeritus Robert Loewy, who read a eulogy written by Israeli writer David Grossman for his son, an Israeli soldier killed in the 2006 war with Lebanon.
Rabbi Gabe Greenberg of Congregation Beth Israel offered prayers for the residents of the southern Israeli region most recently under attack, as well as the soldiers of the IDF. “We turn to Ha’Shem, our God, the ultimate guardian of Israel for their safety and security,” Greenberg said, then followed with a reading of Psalm 121 in both Hebrew and English.
Cantor Joel Colman from Temple Sinai recited statistics from the Israeli government listing the total casualties for security personnel and terror victims from 1860 to 2019. The numbers showed 3,050 victims of terror attacks and 23,741 soldiers killed in action. He then sang a memorial hymn “in remembrance of all those who have been lost and in solidarity with the grief of the families and friends they left behind.”
Touro Synagogue Senior Rabbi Alexis Berk led the gathering in a recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish, followed by a children’s choir from the Jewish Community Day School singing a “song of peace.”
At the conclusion of the 30-minute memorial ceremony, those gathered for the occasion moved into the adjacent auditorium for a meal of Israeli food and singing and dancing, celebrating the Jewish nation’s 71st birthday. Two large cakes, each displaying the blue and white Israeli flag were sliced up and pieces were served as dessert.
Israeli singer Dganit Daddo provided the live entertainment as celebrants danced the hora to “Hava Nagila” and other songs that were sung both in Hebrew and English. Roughly 200 people were in attendance, including Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans CEO Arnie Fielkow and other ranking Federation officials.
Photos from the event are here: