Yom Hautzmaut – 5 Iyar

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Every year on the fifth of Iyyar, Israel celebrates Israeli Independence Day to commemorate the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. All over Israel there are parties and parades, and in the United States celebrations have included concerts, fairs, and film showings. Yom ha-Atzma’ut comes after the close of Yom ha-Zikkaron, which is a day of remembrance and mourning for those who died fighting for the state. After the somber candle-lightings, psalm recitations, and gravesite visits of Yom ha-Zikkaron, the mood changes from sorrow to celebration with the onset of Yom ha-Atzma’ut.

The religious establishment has developed and introduced liturgical rituals in recognition of Yom ha-Atzma’ut. These include readings of Psalms 98 and 100 or Psalms 107, 97, and 98 and the chanting of Ma’Ariv in the evening. Some congregations recite Hallel at night, and Shir ha-ma’alot (Psalm 126) is sung to the melody of Hatikvah. A festive meal with singing and lighting of candles follows. The next day, some congretations read three aliyot from Deuteronomy 7:12-8:18, followed by a haftarah of Isaiah 10:32-12:6. The prayer for the state is then recited. The traditonal greeting of the day is Moadim le-simhah (“Have a happy festival”) with a response of Le-geulah sheleimah (“Toward a complete redemption”). Yom ha-Atzma’ut offers a rich opportunity for creating individualized services, particularly by drawing upon the Book of Psalms and the prophets, and general readings or meditations on the themes of Zion and Israel. Modern Israeli poets have also provided a great deal of wonderful material on the subject of Israel.

Yom ha-Atzma’ut also offers ample opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the state of Israel and the concept of the return of the Jewish people to their homeland. The holiday raises important issues concerning the Diaspora and its relation to Israel; the significance of nationlism and how it should be practiced so that it does not represent a form of idolatry, as some critics have cautioned; and the kinds of symbolism that are meaningful and appropriate in acknowledgement and celebration of the state.


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