There is a ceremony on campus tonight (and all around the country) for Holocaust Remembrance Day and I thought this would be a good time to talk a little about all of the different holidays going on recently here in Israel. We are right now in the middle of the holiday season in Judaism and in Israeli culture, with at least five holidays in a three week period. Its nuts.
Last week was Passover, made famous by Matza or the unleavened bread that Jews eat for eight days. My parents came to visit, we had a nice banquet on the night of the holiday, and it was like spring break all over Israel.
Tonight is the Holocaust Remembrance Day, called Yom Hashoah (יום השואה) in Hebrew. It is Israel's remembrance day for the 6 million Jews that perished in the Holocaust. It is a day of mourning and reflection. Places of entertainment, like movie theaters, will be closed by law tonight. Flags are lowered to half-mast and it is customary to wear white.
Next Monday night is Israel's Memorial Day called Yom Hazikaron (יום הזיכרון) in Hebrew. The day is dedicated to Israel's fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. It is also a very somber day in Israel. A siren is sounded all over the country at which point Israel's stop whatever they're doing (including driving) and stand in silence.
Yom Hazikaron is immediately followed the next day by Yom Haatzmaut (יום העצמאות), or Israel's Independence Day. It is not on May 14 (when Ben Gurion declared the State of Israel in 1948) because it follows the Jewish calender, which is a lunar calendar, and changes dates every year. This, of course, is one of the happiest days on the Jewish and Israeli calendar. Ceremonies are held all over the country, especially the capital Jerusalem. More than ceremonies, there are huge parties held all over the country. There are Israeli flags everywhere in Israel right now on the streets getting ready for this outpouring of patriotism.
There is another holiday, Lag Ba'Omer int he middle of May. There is also one ongoing right now, called Sefirah (Counting of the Omer), counting the days between Passover and Shavuot (a harvest festival in June).
So to say that it is a hectic time in Judaism and here in Israel is an understatement. There is a lot going on, but I think it really speaks to how Israeli culture operates. One day is Memorial Day, one of the saddest days of the year, and the very next day is Independence Day, by far the happiest day of the year. So we'll see what happens.