Yom HaZikaron 5773

This evening and tomorrow, until nightfall, is Israel’s Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron. I heard that the day was going to be very different than the United States’ Memorial Day, which is usually celebrated as a day off with a trip to the beach and some barbecue. I grew up visiting cemeteries every Memorial Day with my grandfather who would place American flags at the graves of all our family members that served in the military, which is quite a few. Even with all the time spent at different grave sites, I never thought of the day as a somber day. Israel’s observance of Yom Hazikaron is similar to the observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was just about a week ago. Many restaurants and stores have closed this evening. The only way to know it isn’t Shabbat is from the amount of cars still driving through the streets.

After watching Israelis of various backgrounds observing a minute of silence on Holocaust Remembrance Day, I knew I wanted to get a better view for the moment of silence for Memorial Day. The first siren for the day was at 8:00 p.m. Just a few minutes before I left my apartment to walk towards a park that was filled with people and near a major intersection. With just a couple of minutes to spare I found my way to the top of a bridge overlooking the park and many Jerusalem streets below. I watched cars and people pass. The siren began. I knew it was coming, that was why I was standing on the bridge after all, yet I was taken completely by surprise. My heart skipped a beat and I stopped breathing for a split second as the stillness took over the city below me. Balls stopped bouncing. Bicycle wheels halted, and dare I believe that even the dogs stopped in their tracks. As far as my eyes could see, people stood on their feet in absolute silence. Cars abandoned. Conversations paused. For that minute, it felt as even thoughts were suspended. It was truly one of the most moving sights I have ever witnessed. It was one of those moments where I am more grateful than I thought I ever could be to be in Israel.

Thank you to all the soldiers and other service men and women who have made it possible for not only me but millions to call Israel “Home”.

Fasting in Jerusalem- Tenth of Tevet 5773

Today is the tenth of Tevet. I posted my reflections on this day last year.

For some reason, I have always felt a connection to fast days. Even before identifying as Jewish, the first days of the Jewish calendar that observed were fast days.  I don’t exactly know why I feel such a strong connection to them, but an idea I have is that because fasts mark times that were hard for our people. Not only in Judaism, but in every religion. It is a way of mourning during our year. We don’t just remember the past, but we recognize that the wounds are fresh. Time is thrown out the window, and we sit with the communities before us who felt pain and sorrow. This is really the reason I love all holidays, but there is still something special in fasts. I think the lack of extravagance in a fast makes me more apt to reflect more.

With every holiday, I connect myself with the history. This year, being in Jerusalem for a fast about the siege of Jerusalem made it harder to find that connection. It sounds strange that being in the city would challenge me more than help me, but it did. It felt strange mourning over Jerusalem when I was clearly in the modern, Jewish city going about my day. Why mourn when I know how the story is now? I was free to practice my religion in this city along with many, many other Jews.

As the day goes on, I knew there was a way I still related to the biblical story. Maybe Jerusalem is an autonomous Jewish city now, but it is sadly an exceptional instance in history. Although we are free here, there is still a fragility. We need to remember and connect to this day, even in Jerusalem, because it can so easily happen again. If we don’t make a point of mourning the loss that our people had, we risk forgetting how precious, sacred and fragile Jerusalem is for us. It is important to actively remember the day, take action by fasting on the day, in order to inspire action to protect our current Home.

May everyone fasting have a safe and meaningful fast.

Tenth of Tevet

Today, the tenth of Tevet, is a minor fast day in Judaism. The fast of Tevet is an observance remembering Nebuchadnezzar II’s siege of Jerusalem. The event is recorded in 2 Kings 25: 1-2, “Now in the ninth year of his reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, camped against it and built a siege wall all around it. So the city was under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.” This siege eventually led to the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 586 BCE. In more recent years, the tenth of Tevet has also become a memorial day for Shoah (Holocaust) victims whose date of death is unknown.  It is a General Kaddish Day and memorial candles are lit.

A minor fast includes keeping oneself from food or drink (if they are healthy) from dawn to nightfall. This differs from major fast days, like Yom Kippur, where one restrains from work also and the fast last nightfall to nightfall.

Today, I stand in solidarity with the Jewish people as they keep nourishment from passing through their lips. As I use the day to call to mind Nebuchadnezzar’s siege and those victims of the Shoah with unknown dates of death, I begin to think deeper about what it means to fast. Fasting is a way to remember what has happened. We think about why we are fasting on this day and not tomorrow or yesterday. What is our tradition trying to recall in history. This is the straight forward part of reflection on a fast day. Most people have been told since they were young what they were fasting for on that day, or if they are like me and did not know before, a quick talk with a Rabbi, community member, or even an internet search will clarify what the fast is remembering.

The second and more implicit reflection on a  fast day is relating to the event itself. After asking the question of what happened on this day, you move to asking how this happened, why this happened and how does it relate to myself and my community, past, present and future. Answers will be different for different people, and this second type of reflection is an opportunity for learning and growth.

Everyday we should ask ourselves what our relation to the past is, but on fast days it is more of an obligation. We are asked to link what has been done by our ancestors and what we do now. I love the grandeur of connecting my own life to people of a different time and place. Today, I reflect on what it means for me to fast, not yet a Jew, as Jews for centuries before me have fasted on the same day. I think about how are my set intentions similar and different from those before me.

For everyone observing the fast on the tenth of Tevet, I wish you an easy and meaningful fast. May you find something deeper this day as you connect yourself with the generations before and after you.