that three people are involved in the creation of a new life the mother, the father and God. Every child is welcomed as a
gift from God but only the boys go through the special ceremony called Brit Milah or circumcision. This can be traced right
back to Abraham and is the oldest practice still used by Jews.
A Token of
This is carried
out on a boy when he is eight days old and involves the removal of the foreskin of the penis. This is an outward sign that
the child is a member of the Jewish people and no male can be a member of this unless circumcised.
Once the father
was responsible for this but now it is carried out by a trained man called a mohel but can be done at a hospital if a Rabbi
is present. Most prefer it to be done at home or in a synagogue where ten men have to be present.
The child is
carried by his godmother and then held by his godfather called the sandek before performing the operation the mohel says Blessed
art thou o our Lord, King of the Universe who has sanctified us with thy commandments and hast given us the command concerning
The mohel removes
the forekin with a quick stroke of the knife, wipes off the blood and then secures the skin to prevent any further growth.
The father of the child then says the blessing Blessed are you O Lord our God, ruling Spirit of the Universe who has commanded
us to enter our son into the Covenant our Father Abraham
respond by saying As he entered the Covenant, so may he enter into the love of the Torah, into the marriage canopy and into
a life of good deeds at this point the child is given his name, a blessing is made over a glass of wine and a drop of wine
is placed on the babys lips. The father drinks some of the wine before sending the rest to the babys mother who waits in a
separate room during the ceremony.
It is a complete obedience since it removes
something from the body because God commanded it.
Jews accept it as a sign for every man
that he is a member of Gods chosen people the Jews
It provides the opportunity for the child
to receive the blessing of his father always an important event in the life of every member of the Jewish family.
Jewish Festivals in Israel
Jewish festivals, originating in antiquity, are observed in Israel intensively and in
many ways. They are manifested in traditional and nontraditional customs and practice, and they leave their imprint on diverse
aspects of national life. The Jewish festivals are the "landmarks" by which Israelis mark the passing of the year. The holidays
are very much a part of daily life: on the street, in the school system and in synagogues and homes around the country.
Shabbat, the weekly day of rest, on Saturday, is marked in Israel with most spending
the day together with family and friends. Public transport is suspended, businesses are closed, essential services are at
skeletonstaff strength, and furlough is granted to as many soldiers as possible. The secular majority take advantage
of their weekly day of rest for leisure time at the seashore, places of entertainment and excursions in outdoor settings.
The observant devote many hours to festive family meals and services in synagogue, desist from travel and refrain from working
or using appliances.
Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish new year. Its origin is Biblical (Lev.
23:2325): "a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts [of the shofar, the ram's horn]." The term Rosh Hashanah,
"beginning of the year," is rabbinical, as are the formidable themes of the festival: repentance, preparation for the day
of Divine judgment and prayer for a fruitful year. The twoday festival falls on 12 Tishre in the Jewish calendar,
usually September in the Gregorian, and starts at sundown of the preceding evening, as do all Jewish observances. Major customs
of Rosh Hashanah include the sounding of the shofar in the middle of a lengthy service that focuses on the festival themes,
and elaborate meals at home to inaugurate the new year. The prayer liturgy is augmented with prayers of repentance and the
Hallel, a collection of blessings and psalms recited on Rosh Hashanah, at the beginning of each new month, on the three pilgrimage
festivals, and on occasions of public deliverance.
In many senses, Israel begins its year on Rosh Hashanah. Government correspondence, newspapers,
and most broadcasting, to give only three examples, carry the "Jewish date" first. Felicitations for the new year are generally
tendered before Rosh Hashanah, not in late December.
Yom Kippur, eight days after Rosh Hashanah, is the day of atonement, of Divine judgment,
and of "selfdenial" (Lev. 2327) so that the individual may be cleansed of sins. The only fast day decreed in the
Bible, it is a time to enumerate one's misdeeds and contemplate one's faults. The Jew is expected, on this day, to pray for
forgiveness for sins between man and God and correct his wrongful actions for sins between man and his fellow man. The major
precepts of Yom Kippur lengthy devotional services and a 25hour fast are observed even by many of the otherwise
secular. The level of public solemnity on Yom Kippur surpasses that of any other festival, including Rosh Hashanah. The country
comes to a complete halt for 25 hours on this day; places of entertainment are closed; there are no television and radio broadcasts
not even the news; public transport is suspended; and even the roads are completely closed. It is reinforced in Israel
by memories of the 1973 war, a surprise attack launched on Yom Kippur by Egypt and Syria against Israel.
Five days later falls Sukkot, described in the Bible (Lev. 23:34) as the "Feast of Tabernacles."
Sukkot is one of the three festivals that were celebrated until 70 CE with mass pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem and
are therefore known as the "pilgrimage festivals." On Sukkot, Jews commemorate the Exodus from Egypt (c.13th century bce)
and give thanks for a bountiful harvest. At some kibbutzim, Sukkot is celebrated as Chag Ha'asif (the harvest festival), with
the themes of the gathering of the second grain crop and the autumn fruit, the start of the agricultural year, and the first
In the five days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, tens of thousands of householders and
businesses erect sukkot-booths for temporary dwelling, resembling the booths in which the Israelites lived in the desert,
after their exodus from Egypt-and acquire the palm frond, citron, myrtle sprigs, and willow branches with which the festive
prayer rite is augmented. All around the country, sukkot line parking lots, rooftops, lawns, and public spaces. No army base
lacks one. Some Israelis spend the festival and the next six days literally living in their sukkot.
In Israel, the "holy day" portion of Sukkot (and the other two pilgrimage festivals,
Passover and Shavuot) is celebrated for one day. Diaspora communities celebrate it for two days, commemorating the time in
antiquity when calendation was performed at the Temple and its results reported to the Diaspora using a tenuous network of
signal fires and couriers.
After the festive day, Sukkot continues at a lesser level of sanctity, as mandated by
the Torah (Lev. 23:36). During this intermediate week-half festival, half ordinary-schools are closed and many workplaces
shut down or shorten their hours. Most secular Israelis spend the interim days of Sukkot and Passover at recreation sites
throughout the country.
The intermediate week and the holiday season end on Shemini Atzeret, the "sacred occasion
of the eighth day" (Lev. 23:36) with which Simhat Torah is combined. Celebration of Shemini Atseret/Simhat Torah focuses on
the Torah the Five Books of Moses and is noted for public dancing with a Torah scroll in one's arms and with recitation
of the concluding and beginning chapters of the Torah, renewing the yearly cycle of Torah reading. After dark, many communities
sponsor further festivities, often outdoors, that are not limited by the ritual restrictions that apply on the holy day itself.
Hanukkah, beginning on 25 Kislev (usually in December), commemorates the triumph of the
Jews, under the Maccabees, over the Greek rulers (164 BCE): the physical victory of the small Jewish nation against mighty
Greece and the spiritual victory of the Jewish faith against the Hellenism of the Greeks. Its sanctity derives from this spiritual
aspect of the victory, and the miracle of the flask of oil, when a portion of sacramental olive oil meant to keep the Temple
candelabrum lit for one day lasted for eight as the Temple was being rededicated.
Hanukkah is observed in Israel, as in the Diaspora, for eight days. The central feature
of this holiday is the lighting of candles each evening one on the first night, two on the second, and so on in
commemoration of the miracle at the Temple. The Hanukkah message in Israel focuses strongly on aspects of restored sovereignty;
customs widely practiced in the Diaspora, such as giftgiving and the dreidl (spinning top), are also in evidence. The
dreidl's sides are marked with Hebrew initials representing the message "A great miracle occurred here"; in the Diaspora,
the initials stand for "A great miracle occurred there." Schools are closed during this week; workplaces are not.
Tu B'Shevat, the fifteenth of Shevat (January February), cited in rabbinical sources
as the new year of fruit trees for sabbatical, tithing, and other purposes, has almost no ritual impact. But it has acquired
secular connotations as a day when trees are planted by individuals, especially by schoolchildren and it serves as the time
when intensive afforestation is done by the Jewish National Fund and local authorities. During this month, the fruit trees
begin to flower, starting with the almond tree, although it is still cold.
Purim, another rabbinical festival, in early spring, occurs on 14 Adar (15 Adar in walled
cities), commemorating the deliverance of beleaguered Jewry in the Persian Empire under Artaxerxes, as recounted in the Scroll
of Esther. This festival compensates for the solemnity of most other Jewish observances by mandating merriment. Schools are
closed, public festivities abound, newspapers run hoax items reminiscent of April Fools' Day, children (and adults) don costumes,
and a festive reading of the Scroll of Esther is marked by noisemakers sounded whenever Haman's name is recited. The Orthodox
indulge in inebriation, within limits, and carry out an exacting list of duties: giving of alms, evening and morning readings
of the Scroll of Esther, recitation of Hallel to mark the national deliverance, exchange of delicacies and a fullfledged
In the spring, beginning on 15 Nisan, is Passover (Pessah), the festival of the Exodus
(c. 13th century BCE) and liberation from bondage. Freedom is, indeed, the dominant note of Passover. The rites of Passover
begin long before the festival, as families and businesses cleanse their premises of hametz-leaven and anything containing
it-as prescribed in the Torah (Ex. 12:1520). The day before the festival is devoted to preparatory rituals including
ceremonial burning of the forbidden foodstuff. On the holiday evening, the seder is recited: an elaborate retelling of the
enslavement, redemption, and Exodus, modeled after the ritual of the paschal sacrifice at the Temple. At this festive meal,
the extended family gathers to recite the seder and enjoy traditional foods, particularly the matza-unleavened bread. The
following day's observances resemble those of the other pilgrimage festivals.
Passover is probably second only to Yom Kippur in traditional observance by the generally
nonobservant. In addition, a secular Passover rite based on the festival's agricultural connotations is practiced in
some kibbutzim. It serves as a spring festival, a festival of freedom, and the date of the harvesting of the first ripe grain.
Passover also includes the second "intermediate" week five halfsacred, halfordinary days devoted to extended
prayer and leisure, and it concludes with another festival day.
Traditional rites of public bereavement are in evidence on Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes'
Remembrance Day, less than a week after Passover, when the people of Israel commune with the memory of the six million martyrs
of the Jewish people who perished at the hands of the Nazis in the Holocaust. On this day, a siren is sounded at 10 A.M.,
as the nation observes two minutes of silence, pledging "to remember, and to remind others never to forget."
Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel's Wars is commemorated a week later, as a day
of remembrance for those who fell in the struggle for the establishment of the State of Israel and in its defense. At 8 P.M.
and 11 A.M., two minutes of silence, as a siren sounds, give the entire nation the opportunity to remember its debt and express
its eternal gratitude to its sons and daughters who gave their lives for the achievement of the country's independence and
its continued existence.
It is directly followed by Independence Day (5 Iyar), the anniversary of the Declaration
of the Establishment of the State of Israel, on May 14, 1948. This is not a centuries old celebration, but a day that means
a lot to many citizens who have physically and actively participated in the creation of a new state and have witnessed the
enormous changes that have taken place since 1948.
On the eve of Independence Day municipalities sponsor public celebrations, loudspeakers
broadcast popular music and multitudes go "downtown" to participate in the holiday spirit.
On Independence Day many citizens get to know the countryside by travelling to battlefields
of the War of Independence, visit the memorials to the fallen, go on nature hikes and, in general, spend the day outdoors
picnicking and preparing barbecues.
Israel Prizes for distinction in literary, artistic and scientific endeavor are presented
and the International Bible Contest for Jewish Youth is held. Army bases are opened to the public and air force flybys,
as well as naval displays take place.
Lag B'Omer (18 Iyar), the thirtythird day in the counting of the weeks between Passover
and Shavuot, has become a children's celebration featuring massive bonfires, commemorating events at the time of the BarKochba
uprising against Rome (132135 CE).
Jerusalem Day is celebrated on 28 Iyar, about a week before Shavuot, commemorating the
reunification of Jerusalem, capital of Israel, in 1967, after it was divided by concrete walls and barbed wire for nineteen
years. On this day, we are reminded that Jerusalem is "the focal point of Jewish history, the symbol of ancient glory, spiritual
fulfillment and modern renewal."
Shavuot, the last of the pilgrimage festivals, when enumerated from the beginning of
the Jewish year, falls seven weeks after Passover (6 Sivan), at the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat
harvest. The Torah (Lev. 23:21) describes this occasion as the festival of weeks (Heb. shavuot), for so is it counted from
Passover, and as the occasion on which new grain and new fruits are offered to the priests in the Temple. Its additional definition
the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai is of rabbinical origin. Shavuot is observed among the
Orthodox with marathon religious study and, in Jerusalem, with a mass convocation of festive worship at the Western Wall.
In the kibbutzim, it marks the peak of the new grain harvest and the ripening of the first fruits, including the seven species
mentioned in the Bible (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates).
The lengthy summer until Rosh Hashanah is punctuated by the Ninth of Av (Tisha be'Av,
falling in July or early August), the anniversary of the destruction of the First and Second Temples. On the day itself, numerous
rules of bereavement and the Yom Kippur measures of "selfdenial," including a fullday fast, are in effect.
Ethnic communities observe further rites and celebrations of their own. Some betterknown
celebrations include the Mimouna, unique to Moroccan Jewry, on the day after Passover, celebrating the renewal of nature and
its blessings; and the Saharana of Kurdish Jewry, after Sukkot, which was the national holiday of the Jews in Kurdistan. Another
event is the Sigd holiday of the Ethiopian Jewish community, in midNovember, a celebration which began in Ethiopia, expressing
their yearning for Zion, and continues in Israel today as an expression of their thankfulness.
Thus, with its diverse population and multiple lifestyles and attitudes, Israel celebrates
the cycle of Jewish festivals and observances in a public manner that underscores the country's Jewishness and its centrality
Nov 30, 2002
10th of Tevet Fast
Dec 15, 2002
Feb 18, 2003
March 18-19, 2003
April 29, 2003
May 6, 2003
May 7, 2003
May 20, 2003
May 30, 2003
June 6-7, 2003
Fast of Tammuz
July 17, 2003
Aug 7, 2003
Aug 29, 2003
Six million Jews, including one and a half million children, were murdered in
the Holocaust - a systematic genocide of one third of the entire Jewish population.
Holocaust Day is a day to remember the victims - those that survived, and the
many more who did not. It is also a day to recall what human beings are capable of doing to one another. Holocaust Day falls
on Tuesday April 9, 2002.
We memorialize the Holocaust for the sake of those that were murdered, those
that survived and for our own sake. As George Santayana wrote: "Those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it."
AMCHA, Israeli Centers for Holocaust Survivors and the Second Generation, is
a remarkable organization that offers psychotherapy, groups services, support groups, clubs for the aging survivor and volunteer
services to homebound survivors.
How could it happen? The Allied soldiers who entered the camps in 1945 as well
as stunned visitors to Holocaust museums today asked themselves, "How could such things occur in the world?" "How could it
go so far? Why weren't they stopped? Why didn't they stop themselves?
To answer that question is beyond the scope of this site. We leave that to the
Sages and Philosophers -- and to God Himself. As it says in Deuteronomy (29:28), "The hidden things belong to God . . . and
the revealed ones are for us and our children. . . .
A brief outline of the history of the Holocaust: some of the events preceding
it, the progression of the maelstrom, and the post-war struggles that the survivors faced.
Smoldering Embers: Germany
German anti-Semitism had a long history prior to the emergence of the Nazi party.
The winds of hate blew for many years before the Nazis entered to stir up the smoldering coals.
Nazis Triumphant: 1930-1939
In 1930, the National Socialist party became the second largest in Germany. The next nine years saw their tightening
hold on the minds and hearts of the nation, and the darkening of the fortunes of Europe's
Engulfed in Flames: The War Years, 1939-1945
When war broke out in 1939, the Jews of Europe
were completely vulnerable. Hitler's troops rolled across Europe, consuming every Jewish
community it their path. The bonfire reached the sky.
Aftermath: Life from the Ashes
1945 saw the end of the war, but not the end of the Holocaust. Thousands of survivors
continued to die from disease, mistreatment and the neglect of nations who turned away from them. Miraculously, from the ashes,
the survivors rose to build new lives
Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, is a relatively recent addition to the
Jewish calendar. Its observances are still evolving, with very different approaches taken and little agreement on the best
way to mark the day.
Yom HaShoah, is an official holiday. In the Diaspora, more Jews have taken to observing this memorial day, as a way of deepening
their understanding and connection to the tragedy.
Yom HaShoah V'HaGevurah: Israel
Yom HaShoah begins in the evening, according to the Jewish calendar. Throughout
Israel, all places of entertainment are
closed, except those featuring special programs on the Holocaust. In the evening a siren is sounded throughout the country,
and all stand for two minutes of silence to reflect upon the tragedy.
Yad Vashem, the national organization for Holocaust research and education, hosts
programs each year. Generally schools present special programs for the students on the Holocaust and related issues.
Ceremonies usually feature the lighting of memorial candles, and a presentation
by a survivor. Sometimes memorial prayers are recited, and poems, writing, and other artwork of victims of the Holocaust are
displayed. Often names of victims are read aloud, along with programs on the destroyed Jewish communities of the Holocaust.
Outside of Israel,
the Holocaust has become a more familiar concept to Jews and non-Jews, through the publication of hundreds of books, the erection
of museums and memorials, and even through popular films and t.v. series. As the importance of remembering the tragedy has
been emphasized, more and more people are using Holocaust Memorial Day as a time for learning and reflecting on the Holocaust.
Many Jewish communities host their own ceremonies, contact leaders of your own community to find out what your community has
planned this year.
For those who don't have the opportunity to participate in a communal ceremony,
Yom HaShoah can be a time for personal introspection, for lighting candles, for memorial prayers, and for learning the history
of the Holocaust.
Beyond just remembering the victims of the Holocaust, we can also consider how
we can strengthen Jewish life and community. Hitler's goal, to destroy Jewish life from the planet, and the assistance he
received from so many sources, should strengthen our resolve, not to grant him a posthumous victory. The Arch of Titus boasts
of the Roman conquest and destruction of the Jewish nation, while the ancient Romans have vanished from the face of the earth.
We must work so that when those that initiated and participated in the Holocaust are disappeared from the world's stage, the
Jewish people will continue in dignity to play their role in history.
Yizkor: Memorial Prayer for the Departed of the Holocaust
May God remember the souls of all the communities of Israel in the European Diaspora
who were sacrificed on the altar during the years of the Holocaust (1939-1945): six million men and women, boys and girls,
young men and women, infants and the elderly, who were cruelly slain and butchered, and mass murdered in their dwellings places
and cities, and in the forests and villages.
Those surviving were brought like sheep to the slaughter to the concentration
camps where they died unnatural deaths, and were burned to ashes in the furnaces of the terrible camps of destruction in Germany
and Poland, and in the rest of the occupied countries, at the hands of the murderous German people and their Allies, all of
whom were of one counsel to annihilate, kill, and utterly destroy the Jewish people, to wipe out the memory of Judaism, and
to erase any association with the name Israel.
God of vengeance, Judge of the Earth, remember the streams of blood that were
spilled like water, the blood of fathers and sons, mothers and sucklings, rabbis and their students, and repay the oppressors
of your people seventy times over.
Do not silence the scream of "Shema Yisrael!" uttered by those who were taken
to their death, and let the groan of the afflicted ascend before the throne of your glory. Avenge, speedily in our days, before
our eyes, the blood of your pure and sanctified sons and daughters who were never had the privilege to be buried as Jews As
it is written: "For He will avenge the blood of His servants, and vengeance he will serve on their oppressors, and He will
atone the Land of His people."
Prayer for the Departed:
El Malei Rachamim
O God, full of mercy, who dwells on high,
Grant proper rest on the wings of the Divine Presence
In the lofty levels of the holy and pure,
Who shine like the glow of the firmament -
For the souls of the Six Million Jews, victims of the European Holocaust
Who were killed, slaughtered, burned and wiped out
For the Sanctification of the Name
By the murderous Germans and their allies,
Because, without making a vow,
All the community will pray
For the uplifting of their souls.
Therefore, may the Master of mercy
Shelter them in the shelter of His wings for eternity;
And may He bind their souls in the Bond of Life.
The Lord is their heritage.
And may their resting-place be in the Garden of Eden,
And may they reach their destiny at the end of days.
And let us say Amen.
Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day, is a day to remember those who lost their
lives fighting for the State of Israel.
In recent years, Yom HaZikaron has been expanded to include civilians killed by terror attacks as well. This year, 2002, Yom
HaZikaron begins at nightfall of 15 April and continues through April 16 (Iyar 4, 5762). Throughout the world, but especially
in Israel, the day is carefully spent in reflection of the human cost of
the wars fought for the State of Israel, and in a careful evaluation of
the achievements of the modern-day State of Israel
over the past year.
Israel is a small country in which almost
everyone serves in the army. And if everyone is a soldier, most Israelis have either a relative or friend who was killed fighting
for Israel. In such a small country, smaller
than the State of New Jersey, people feel the pain of each
soldier killed acutely. When 73 young soldiers were killed in the helicopter crash of February 1997, the whole country mourned.
Each 18 or 19 year-old face on the cover of the newspaper calls to mind a son, a friend, a son's friend.
How do we remember? In Israel, and in the Diaspora, there are several ways. Learn
about one family's sacrifice, and reflect on what the soldiers of Israel have given to all of us.
A minute of silence will be observed in Israel on the evening of April 15 at
8:00pm and two minutes at 11:00am the following day (Israel Time).
Yom HaZikaron is a solemn day in Israel. On this day, the eve of Israel's Independence
celebrations, the Israeli people and Jews around the world, take time out to pay their dues to those who payed with their
lives for our land. For some, Yom Hazikaron comes once a year, but for who have lost their loved ones, it is a constant state
of existence. Here are the latest statistics from the Israeli Defence Ministry:
The number of IDF (Israel Defence Force) fallen from November 1947 until today
The number of fallen between prior to 28.11.47 (non- IDF personnel) is 1,593.
The number of fallen in Israel's wars from 1860 until the present day is 20,906.
(This number includes disabled IDF veterans who later died from their wounds and non- IDF personnel who fell in the line of
There are 83,962 disabled veterans.
The total population of bereaved families and disabled IDF veterans cared for
by the Defense Ministry Rehabilitation department numbers is currently 97,206.
Remembering Israel's Soldiers
Yom HaZikaron is a solemn day in Israel. On the evening preceding the day, a siren wails, and everything stops for one minute. The country grinds to a halt.
Traffic stops, drivers get out of their cars and stand at attention at the side of their vehicles. Pedestrians freeze where
they are on the sidewalk. An eerie stillness is broken only by the dull sound of the siren.
This is repeated the next day, in the morning. Most employers offer it as an
optional day off work.
In military cemeteries throughout the country, special services are held in honor
of the fallen soldiers. Generally, memorial torches are lit, speeches said, and then the families and friends are left alone
with their dead. The graveyards are filled with weeping parents, friends, spouses. Adults try to describe to children the
special brother, father, uncle, they have never known. People who have been fortunate enough not to have lost relatives in
Israel's wars visit graveyards simply in order to remember those who gave their lives so that the State of Israel could live.
Indeed, in many respects, they consider the fallen to be a part of their own family. As they read the tombstones of those
who fell in battle, they pay tribute to each soldier as a hero, each with a story of his or her own. Baruch Shapiro was one
such hero, an 18 year old survivor of the Shoah, who fell in the War of Independence defending Jerusalem in 1948. Read his
So many names, so many young lives cut short: the memories are cherished across
the years, but are especially vivid on this day, when the nation marks the tremendous human sacrifice for the sake of the
Jewish State. By mid-afternoon on Yom HaZikaron, most of the visitors have gone home, to continue their mourning in private.
As we stand at the brink of the celebration of fifty-four years since the establishment
of the State of Israel, Yom Hazikaron reminds us of the high human cost of the wars Israel has fought for its very survival,
indeed for the very right to exist. Only with the darkness of human loss, came the light of victory, and the dawn of hope
for the Jewish people. It is this transition from a day of sadness and reflection to one of triumph and hope that so characterizes
the Jewish psyche, and that is so poignantly reflected in the change of mood as night falls. Out of the ashes of the memories
of Yom Hazikaron come the buoyant celebrations of Israel's Independence Day, Israel's fifty-fourth...Join our celebrations!
In the Diaspora
How can someone living outside of Israel best mark Israel's Memorial Day?
The majority of Jews around the world continue to look to the modern-day State
of Israel with hope and pride, as they have done since the establishment of the State fifty-four years ago. Feeling their
destiny to be inextricably bound with that of the Jewish State, they recognize the huge sacrifice made by those who lost their
lives fighting for the State of Israel, and the price they and their families have paid so that Israel could flourish as a
nation in its own right.
It says in the Talmud, "Kol Yehudim
aruvim zeh leh zeh." "All Jews are responsible for one another." In this vein, those outside Israel feel that Israel's loss
is their loss too.
Ways to mark the day outside of Israel include lighting memorial candles, giving
tzedaka, or charity, or learning on behalf of the deceased. Some learn Torah in the memory of a particular soldier, study
history (either of the Jewish state, or of Jewish history in general), or spend some time reflecting upon how the sacrifices
of Israel's soldiers affect them and the direction their own lives are taking.
The Never-Ending Story
by Stewart Weiss
reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of April 20, 1996
You might walk past it a thousand times - even tread directly upon it - and yet
you would probably never take note of it. Amid the silent hills and grassy quietude of Mt. Herzl, a gentle spring wind blows
over the grave of one Baruch Shapiro. Barely an echo of his name remains. But the story of Baruch Shapiro, now itself buried
by the years, begs to be retold.
For his story mirrors the struggle of a whole people, encapsulating what it means
to live - and die - as a proud Jew in the modern State of Israel. Baruch was the last remaining son of Chaim Shapiro, native
of Cracow and survivor of Auschwitz. By a combination of faith, strength, and luck, Chaim lived through the unspeakable hell
of the death camp, emerging from it along with his son Baruch. Chaim's wife and five other sons were less fortunate. They
perished together with the multitudes of Jews we now refer to as the Six Million.
In a pitiful state, confused and shattered, father and son came here, along with
thousands of other remnants of the ovens, to build a new life and restore hope. But their dream of piecing together a new
beginning would have to be delayed. Arriving on the shores of Palestine, young Baruch - now 18 years old - was handed a gun
and a uniform, and drafted into what would become the Israel Defense Forces.
There were those who planned to finish what the Nazis had begun, and a new war
was about to erupt. Chaim watched his son go off to war along with the other young men, and he tried to put his fears and
foreboding out of his mind, busying himself with the difficult task of hewing out a place in the gritty new country now battling
for its first breaths of air.
It was in the latter stages of the War of Independence that Baruch Shapiro fell,
on the road to Ierusalem, defending the capital. He had distinguished himself throughout the war, and died guarding his post
from enemy advance. When a young captain informed Chaim of the death of his son, the father uttered not a word. He simply
nodded silently and folded the official notification over and over in his hand.
Many hundreds of friends and comrades came to Baruch's funeral. The chief of
staff was also there, for he had heard of the young man's distinguished service in his unit. An overwhelming sense of loss
had pervaded the day, for those assembled knew of the unique circumstances of the Shapiro family and wished to demonstrate
their solidarity with the aging father whose family line had come to a sudden, tragic end.
During the brief ceremony, Chaim remained silent. He listened impassively as
the appropriate Psalms and prayers were recited and as Baruch's commanding officer eulogized him as an exemplary soldier.
But when the flag-draped body was lowered into the grave, Chaim Shapiro suddenly began to sing, quietly at first, then more
loudly. He sang "Am Yisrael Hai" over and over. Then he began to dance, grabbing some of Baruch's friends and pulling them
into a Hora. The crowd looked on in horror, sure the father had lost his mind. Clearly the enormity of the loss of his last
remaining child had finally pushed him over the brink. Those standing closest to Chaim tried to calm him down, to console
him. The Chief of Staff put his arms around him and urged him to sit down. But Chaim pushed the general away, and carried
on singing and dancing.
After several minutes, the elderly man turned to the crowd and began to speak:
"I am sure you think I have gone quite mad," he began "But I assure you that I am in complete control of my faculties. I know
you think it outrageous that I should sing at my boy's burial, but I want to explain why nothing could be more appropriate."
The crowd stood mesmerized. "You see," the father went on, "When the rest of
my family were murdered in Poland by the Germans, their lives ended in silence. They vanished, in the wink of an eye. They
were snuffed out like candles, and no one saw or heard. No one took notice of who they were, what they had done, or what their
lives had meant."
"To live and die in Poland
was an empty and barren experience, containing only sadness and regret. It was a waste of precious life. But this son," Chaim
continued, pointing at the grave, "This son is different. Baruch lived to walk upon the holy earth of Eretz Yisrael, and he
died defending Jerusalem -- Jerusalem!
a place we never dreamed we would see in our lifetimes. Baruch gave his life for all the people of Israel, so they could be
free, and safe, and independent."
"That is not the waste of a life. It is the celebration of a life - and that
is why I sing today, as I say Shalom to my son. And that is why all of you should sing with me."
With that, Chaim Shapiro began to sing "Am Yisrael Hai" once more, and the assembled
throng began to join in, until every voice in the cemetery was raised in a surrealistic song of sadness and joy, the tears
of each emotion mingled on every face. For a long time they sang thus together, until the hills of Jerusalem themselves seemed to be joining in the chorus.
You might walk past the grave of Baruch Shapiro a thousand times - even tread
directly upon it - and probably take no notice. A gentle wind blows on the grave, and the story of Baruch Shapiro is no more
than a fading memory, a distant echo. But the epic story of the Jewish people goes on, unabated. It is a story written in
the blood of our young men and women, on pages of pain and heroism, engraved in stone with quills of iron will. That story
describes a profound stoicism and suffering, one that that cannot be contained. It must inevitably burst out into song and
dance, until we all affirm: Am Yisrael Hai.