On Wednesday night, the Teaneck Jewish Center will host a community observance and celebration of Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, and Yom Hazikaron, Israel Memorial Day.
The evening is sponsored by the Jewish Center and 13 other Orthodox synagogues in Teaneck and Bergenfield.
It will feature a Ma’ariv Hagigit — the normally staid evening service made festive with melody and the addition of psalms of thanksgiving — as well as a talk by an Israeli soldier, Israeli food, and a sing-along of Israeli songs.
Rabbi Daniel Fridman of the Jewish Center said that the program came about “through the good graces of Rabbi Shalom Baum.
“For many years there has been a Yom Ha’Atzmaut event at Keter Torah” — Rabbi Baum’s Teaneck congregation — “where they would have a tefillah hagigit. They were unable to do it this year. Rabbi Baum said, sure, it could be at another shul. He deserves a lot of credit for his characteristic graciousness about that.”
The festive Yom Ha’Atzmaut service is an important theological commitment for Teaneck’s modern Orthodox community, which prides itself on its religious commitment to Zionism. That is a different approach than the one taken by the more traditionalist charedi Orthodox; the State of Israel does not affect their liturgical calendar in any way.
“Medinat Yisrael is not simply something we’re happy about, a place to visit — we perceive it as a fundamental part of our religious worldview,” Rabbi Fridman said. “God has delivered on His promise to bring His people back to our ancestral homeland. It is a religious and spiritual event because it’s an acknowledgment that, to quote a verse, ‘This is the work of God, it is wondrous in our eyes.’ We have a profound sense of commitment to the welfare of the State of Israel.”
David Jacobowitz helped organize the evening. He is a co-chair of the adult education committee of Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck. “The 70th year of Israel’s independence is something special to savor,” he said. “Seventy is recognized as sort of a measure of maturity. Little Israel has grown up and deserves to be recognized for all of its accomplishments.”
Celebrating Yom Ha’Atzmaut “is kind of a no-brainer for the Teaneck community,” Mr. Jacobowitz said. “In my shul alone we have 15 kids who are currently serving in Tzahal,” the Israeli army. “It’s no surprise that our community would want to come together and recognize this special occasion.”
Israel played a big role in Mr. Jacobowitz’s upbringing.
“I was born to parents who were Holocaust survivors,” he said. “They were all set to go to Israel from the Displaced Persons camp in Germany where I was born. They were dissuaded by letters from friends who were there in 1949, saying life in Israel was very hard.
“Mentally they always sat on their suitcases and had the goal of going there,” he continued. “They were teachers. They began traveling to Israel to attend Hebrew courses in Netanya. They brought back a great love for the language and Israeli culture.
“I was finally able to go when I was in college. I was a volunteer on kibbutz, just after the Six Day War. It was like a fairy tale come to life.”
The evening will parallel, in miniature, the dual nature of Israel’s annual commemorative days of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut. First comes the somber memorial day. Then, at nightfall, the joyous independence day. At the Jewish Center ceremony, “the first part will focus on the losses,” Mr. Jacobowitz said. “There are many losses, unfortunately, of soldiers and of civilians killed in terrorist attacks. In excess of 23,000 kedoshim” — martyrs — “in these two groups combined. They deserve to be honored and remembered.”
This first part of the evening will feature a short Mincha service, followed by an address by a young Israeli soldier who served in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.
Then the Israeli flag, which will have been at half-mast, will be raised. The group will sing Hatikva before beginning the festive Ma’ariv service, and some words of inspiration from Rabbi Yosef Adler of Rinat Yisrael.
Next will come the Israeli fair, offering Israeli food and a series of educational displays on Israel’s history and innovations.
Finally, half an hour of singing familiar Israeli songs from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, with David and Susan Gordon on the guitar and violin.
Rabbi Yishai Klein is an Israeli shaliach; he’s a teacher at Yeshivat Ben Porat Yosef and the youth director at the Jewish Center. He and his wife, Yiska, are preparing the Israeli fair.
“Personally,” he said, speaking in Hebrew, “I have a great feeling of gratitude to the Holy One Blessed Be He on every Yom Ha’Atzmaut.”
He said his grandparents were Holocaust survivors. “They couldn’t dream of where we are today,” he said. “Their families who didn’t get to Israel couldn’t dream that a miracle would arise, a State of Israel. It’s a great miracle. Yom Ha’Atzmaut is a day for thanksgiving and joy and acknowledgment of the good that God gave us, the great miracle that is the State of Israel.”