Last Year in the Deep South, This Year in Jerusalem

Hi! Remember me? It’s Missy! Last May I was finishing up my ISJL Education Fellowship with visits to two different Southern and Jewish Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebrations in Macon, Georgia and Knoxville, Tennessee. We learned about kibbutzim, Israeli danced, wrote letters for the Kotel (Western Wall), and smelled spices in the shuk. I even received a blessing for a safe journey to Israel, where I’ve spent the last year. And oh what a journey it’s been!

=This year, I get the real deal… the full Yom Ha’atzmaut experience in Eretz Yisrael!

Yom Ha’atzmaut here in the Holy Land is an amazing celebration full of fireworks, bubble guns, cookouts, and Israeli flags EVERYWHERE! But it’s hard to get the full experience without knowing what comes right before it.

There are 10 days in the middle of the spring known as the Israeli High Holidays, that have a similar joy and reverence as the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the fall. These High Holidays begin with Yom HaShoah, a solemn day of remembering all those who perished in the Holocaust, as well as those who fought back against the Nazis. The full name of this holiday in Israel is “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day.” In the morning, a siren blasts for two minutes and all traffic stops. People get out of their cars and just listen. In the evening there’s a ceremony at Yad VaShem, the Holocaust Museum, and the country shuts down to pay its respect to the relatives of survivors and those who didn’t make it.

The following week we have another solemn experience. Yom Hazikaron is to remember all the soldiers who have fallen fighting for Israel’s right to exist. It’s impossible to celebrate Israel’s independence without first recognizing all of those who gave their lives to make this state possible and those who have protected it over the last 68 years.

Yom HaZikaron solemnity
Yom HaZikaron solemnity

My classmates and I attended a ceremony at Gymnasia ha-Ivrit, a nearby high school, where they read the names of every student from the school who has fallen in battle or in a terrorist attack. Over 140 names were read from the school’s 108-year history. Former students who are currently soldiers return from the army to attend this ceremony. This is not a day for celebration.

Last night I attended a Havdallah event at the tachana rishona (First Station) in Jerusalem. Instead of separating between kodesh l’chol (holy and the every day), we separate between kodesh l’kodesh (holy and holy)-the holiness of Yom Hazikaron and the holiness of Yom Ha’atzmaut.

Stores and restaurants began to open, music began to play, and the city became alive with celebration. There were stages set up with music blasting, people were selling all sorts of items with Israeli flags on them, and Ben Yehuda street was packed with people!

Despite my typically-early bedtime, I stayed up with friends to watch the midnight fireworks over Gan ha-Atz’ma-ut (Independence Garden), across the street from my apartment, as overnight we transitioned from sorrow to joy as an entire nation.

At the park today with friends! Joyful!
At the park today with friends! Joyful!

This morning I met friends in a park to grill out, enjoy each other’s company, and celebrate Israel. Hundreds of Israelis filled the park with tents, delicious-smelling grilled chicken, portable tables, and lots of fun!

My journey from the Deep South to Jerusalem has brought so many incredible moments, and this is truly a memorable way to end my year of study in Israel. I’ve had the amazing opportunity and privilege to learn in and from Israel this year and I can’t wait to come back to the States and share all that I’ve learned!

Happy birthday, Israel!

68 never looked so good!

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