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Home»Resources»Holiday Guides»Yom HaShoah, Yom Hazikaron, Yom HaAtzma-ut

Yom HaShoah, Yom Hazikaron, and Yom HaAtzma-ut

The placement of the three commemorative days of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom Hazikaron (Israel Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day), and Yom HaAtzma-ut (Israel Independence Day) reflects the correlation between these very significant days of tribute.

Yom HaShoah, or “Yom HaShoah Ve-Hagevurah” (Day of the Holocaust and the Heroism), is observed as a national holiday in Israel and is held to remember the approximately six million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.

It was initially suggested that the day be held on the 15th of Nisan, the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943. Yet, as Rabbi Irving Greenberg, President Emeritus of The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership writes “Of course, 15 Nisan is the first day of the Pesach holiday, the anniversary of the Exodus, the core redemption event of Jewish history. The representatives of Orthodox Jewry strongly objected to using this date. The heart of Judaism is its affirmation that the world will be perfected, that good will defeat evil, that freedom, dignity and justice are the ultimate birthright of everyone. To override this holiday of liberation and crush the day beneath the weight of woe and death of the Shoah would constitute surrender of Judaism's message. It would turn the religion that chooses life into a commemoration of the triumph of death.”

So instead, the 27th of Nisan was chosen and falls a week after the end of Passover and a week before Yom Hazikaron. Although there is no single event that took place on that date, it is the only day of mourning that isn’t excluded from the typically ebullient month of Nisan and serves to temper Passover’s positive message with the sadness of political reality

The day was officially established by Israeli law in 1959 and includes a 2-minute moment of silence during which air-raid sirens arial created specifically for the day or in other ways appropriate for the individual community.

Following on the heels of Yom HaShoah is another contemporary day of remembrance, Yom Hazikaron, which honors Israeli veterans, fallen soldiers, and Israeli civilians killed by acts of terrorism. It is a day observed with moments of silence and ceremonies at cemeteries and official venues across Israel.

The day ends as the sun sets and Yom HaAtzma-ut, Israeli Independence Day, begins with the raising of the Israeli flag on Mount Herzl from the half-mast position it flew in on Yom Hazikaron to the top of the pole. The link between these two days is obvious; without the sacrifice of those in the armed forces, there would have been no independent Jewish state.

The day is celebrated with parades, family gatherings and public shows and dancing. It concludes with the awarding of the "Israel Prize", the most prestigious award given by the State of Israel, which honors those who have made outstanding contributions in their field or to Israeli culture.

There is, currently, some debate as to how the day should be celebrated from a religious standpoint with regard to the reading of prayers of celebration and thanks. But clearly it has otherwise become a day of unity of purpose for Jews from differing sects.

Kayn Y’hi Ratzon – Let it be God’s Will
When Children of the
world play together,
God sits in the sandbox
And Happily plays along.
God swings right next to them,
And sings their song.
This is God
In a state of bliss.
These children are blessed
With God’s kiss.
They have done God’s bidding
And don’t even know it,
With love in their hearts,
Their faces do show it.
May all God’s children be like this,
Let these feeling be their own.
With hope, all peoples say together,
Kayn Y’hi Ratzon

- Stephanie Kolin of East End Temple, New York, NY from Covenant of the Soul

Ways to observe and celebrate:

Yom HaShoah

  • Organize a service that includes a speaker who is asked to share their own experiences during the Holocaust.
  • Collect poems written during the Holocaust and hold a reading.
  • Arrange a guided trip to a local Holocaust Museum.
  • Study and discuss the particular experiences of women in the Holocaust (see WRJ’s More Jewish Holidays: A Study Guide for resources).

Yom HaZikaron / Yom HaAtzma-ut

  • Present a panel or skit based on the different forms of Zionism, using the range of Zionist philosophies outlined in The Zionist Idea, by Arthur Hertzberg.
  • Organize a special Shabbat service with readings of Psalms about Jerusalem, Israeli poetry, and writings on Zionism.
  • Hold a text study session on the relationship between Jews and the Land of Israel (see WRJ’s More Jewish Holidays: A Study Guide for resources).
  • Sponsor an Israeli food festival and tasting.

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