Are Israeli national holidays exclusively for Israelis?
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Are Israeli national holidays exclusively for Israelis?

The month of Iyar is full of important Jewish and Israeli holidays – Yom HaZikaron (Israel Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror); Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day); Lag B’Omer (33rd day of the Omer), and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Reunification Day). All have entered, on one level or another, into the collective Jewish narrative and as significant holidays in our Hebrew calendar.

Distinctions, or at least assumptions, have been made about these holidays’ importance and relevance. By Jewish standards, all these holidays are relatively new and without biblical roots. The oldest among them, Lag B’Omer, dates back less than 1,900 years and commemorates a break in the mourning period for the students of Rabbi Akiva who died, some by plague and some in the rebellion against the Roman Empire, in 120 C.E. Lag B’Omer is by definition a “Jewish” holiday, whereas Iyar’s other three holidays are all national days of recollection or celebration connected to the new Jewish state of the last 62 years – and hence, by definition, “Israeli” holidays.

In Israel, most citizens do not perceive this subtle difference between Jewish and Israeli holidays. For Israelis, the collective Jewish narrative is part of the average person’s psyche, and the Hebrew calendar dictates the passing of time. We speak about events in terms of “before Pesach” or “we’ll meet up after Shavuot.”

The calendar in North America beats to a different rhythm. Some would argue that these Israeli national holidays can pass unnoticed by many diaspora Jews – or, at least, the claim is that Israeli national holidays are not relevant for many Jews living outside the Jewish state. I have often wondered about this statement, especially “just after Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut and just before Yom Yerushalayim.”

There are many facts and even religious justifications to demonstrate why world Jewry should support, almost as one, these national Israeli holidays: the fact that there is (only one) Jewish state; the fact that 22,682 Jewish soldiers have given their lives to establish and protect this Jewish state; the fact that there is one united Jerusalem reflecting and reinforcing the 3,000-year-old dream of the return to Zion – all these and more should be reason enough for all Jews, worldwide, to support all national Israeli/Jewish holidays.

So as the community shaliach (emissary from Israel), I am writing down some thoughts at this most significant time for Israel. And I ask myself, am I writing this as a way of moaning about the lack of attendance (with the exception of Israelis living in northern New Jersey) at recent Yom HaZikaron community events? Or am I writing this as a way of celebrating the fact that there were more than 10 Yom Ha’Atzmaut happenings throughout our community? Or am I writing this as a way of understanding where all the unbridled passion for Israel is? As you may know, I was instructed during many hours of training that “the whole Jewish community will be waiting to work with you to connect and engage with Israel.”

Instead, many times I have been confronted with the following statement: we Jews (both Jewish Americans and Israeli Jews living in North America) have an unshakeable affiliation, love and respect for Israel. That statement is immediately followed by the million-dollar question: What is Israel (meaning what are you) doing to combat the delegitimization of the Jewish state? If I was given a half-shekel for every time I’ve been told “Israel has terrible public relations,” I’d return to Israel a few hundred shekels better off.

On further reflection I can offer some answers to my dual questions of Israeli exclusivity associated with some holidays and collective Jewish responsibility for the State of Israel. Instead of further analyzing the reasons for this disassociation and at the same time association to the Jewish narrative, I want to offer ways to engage with Israel, work for its continuing existence, and ensure a secure and thriving state with a high quality of life.

1. Stay informed. Attend Israel advocacy events, rallies, and programs. Staying informed will ensure that you remain engaged with Israel and about its issues. Spend 10 minutes every day reading current and updated reports about Israel. Sign up for e-reports from the Israeli Embassy or the consulate in New York.

2. Be aware. Israel is fighting a cyber war, the war of public opinion. There are several Israeli and North American organizations trying to influence global public opinion. The Israel Defense Forces’ spokesperson’s office is the professional body responsible for media and public relations around the world. It has an information site on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/idfnadesk.

The Israel Foreign Ministry also has a YouTube information desk at http://www.youtube.com/IsraelMFA, and President Shimon Peres recognizes the importance of social media. His information desk can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/Peres.

3. Watch the media. There are national Websites that monitor the accuracy of international reporting, including www.camera.org and www.honestreporting.com. In addition, read your local newspaper. If a story is inaccurate, check your facts and then send a response to the editor. Visit the newspaper’s Website to learn how to contact the editor.

This is just a beginning. This is a debate that should be public and out in the open as much as possible. I welcome comments about how to engage with and ensure that Israel continues to develop and thrive.

And one last thought: if you are wondering about Jerusalem Day, there is a community Yom Yerushalayim program on May 12 at 2 p.m. Please attend at Rabin Memorial Grove, Saddle River County Park, Otto C. Pehle Area, in Saddle Brook.

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