Yom HaZikaron, Yom Ha’Atzmaut, and Mental Health Awareness Month

Yom HaZikaron, Yom Ha’Atzmaut, and Mental Health Awareness Month

We went from eight days of Pesach, celebrating the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt and beginning of their trek toward Sinai and revelation, to Yom HaShoah, a day when we commemorate the monstrosities that the latter-day Israelites — that’s us, the Jews — used against us to try to destroy us.

Next week is Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, beginning Tuesday evening, when we honor the memories of everyone who died to create or defend the state of Israel, or in acts of terrorism aimed against it. Wednesday night transitions into Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, celebrating the state’s creation, and its continued existence.

There are so many days to mourn on the Jewish calendar; the oldest and liturgically richest comes later in the summer, in the days of baked heat in Israel. That’s Tisha B’Av, which commemorates older tragedies, particularly the destruction of both Temples. (Eicha, that day’s text, includes a line so ghastly as to almost cross the line into parody. That’s the part about previously compassionate women eating their own babies. Which, no.) This year, Tisha B’Av starts on the evening of August 6.

It’s not surprising that we have so many tragedies to commemorate. We are, after all, a very old people. We have a very long history. We’ve weathered everything, and we’re still here.

Maybe because I’m not Israeli, I don’t understand the arc of Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut. It makes sense intellectually — we go from mourning to joy, from darkness to light, from the depths to the heights. But I’m an American, more comfortable with Memorial Day in late spring and July 4th in early summer. And at least they go in the right direction. The way that Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut are joined always reminds me of how we are expected to say Hallel, praising God, in joyous song, and then not too long afterward move on to Yizkor, when we are prompted to remember our dead (and perhaps not incidentally make donations, once our tear ducts are full). Although there are days when we say Hallel without Yizkor, we never say Yizkor without Hallel. I do not understand how anyone has the emotional ability to encompass all those emotions in so short a time.

We would like to join our Israeli peers in honoring everyone who died to turn Israel from a dream to a reality, and to add our joy to theirs in celebrating not just its survival but its flourishing. It’s an imperfect state, but so is ours, and we live in an imperfect world. We rejoice in Israel, and hope that it, like every single one of us, keeps getting better.

On the secular calendar — which marks time in the world that all of us live in — May is Mental Health Awareness Month. To work toward the goal of destigmatizing mood disorders and mental illness, and providing the emotional, financial, and educational resources people coping with those disorders in themselves or their families, we’re publishing a long, deeply moving piece by Dena Croog. Ms. Croog, the creator and director of Refa’enu, a nonprofit that provides support to members of the Jewish community as they confront mental health issues, has written and reported an essay that provides insight about those struggles.

We’ve used this space many times before to urge openness toward people with special needs; to help with the kind of destigmatization that such local organizations as the Sinai Schools and Yachad advocate. The local Jewish community is tightknit and often self-governs by consensus. We have seen how acceptance of students with special needs has transformed people’s lives; how at least the Orthodox community has made the idea that people with special needs are people, with the same needs for love and joy and play and pleasure that everyone else has. It’s time to extend that same level of openness and inclusion to people with mood disorders. That’s one of the community’s super-powers. So let it happen!