Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Yom haZikaron, Yom haAtzmaut, and something larger than ourselves

I always cry on Yom haZikaron [Israel's Memorial Day], and this year was no exception as I listened to Cheryl Mandel, mother of Daniel Mandel z"l, speak at our local commemoration.

I am always moved to joy on Yom haAtzmaut [Israel's Independence Day], and this year was no exception to that, either.

But I did learn something new this year. I think I now understand a little bit more than before about why these days grab at me so, why aliyah grabs at me so, and even why the rabbinate grabs at me so.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski talks about how people harbor a hunger to give of themselves to others, to be more than just a machine that eats and sleeps and takes care of a myriad physical functions today in order to do them again tomorrow. (Or maybe he doesn’t talk about that, and it’s just what I’ve made up, hallucinating he said it. But it rings true regardless.)

We want to be part of something greater than our own small survival, and the feeling grows as we age and realize just how inevitably doomed that small survival is. It's a feeling that inspires people to build families, to volunteer for organizations, to give philanthropically, and so on. It's what some people call a 'search for meaning.'

I feel that. I get seriously depressed when I think about a self-centered existence, my own as well as that of others. It’s so… futile.

I think that’s one of the major reasons I went for the rabbinate, to be a crucial part of families and a community, something greater than myself.

And I think that’s one of the major reasons why aliyah calls to me: the desire to be part of that ambitious enterprise, the return of our people to our home.

I know the feeling of “part of something greater” wears off pretty quickly for an oleh as he gets cut by another "part of something greater" on a long line, or deals with the bureaucracy of "something greater" in an office, and so on, but I’m on the other end right now, and from here the idea of being part of this nation Israel is very attractive.

It tugs at me on Yom haZikaron, and Yom haAtzmaut. I am jealous; I want to be part of that greater entity, with all of the pain that it brings, as well as the celebration, the crying as well as the joy and dancing.

Oh, but these days are a great antidote for my inner cynic.


  1. The gift of the jews-thomas cahill

    The Gifts of the Jews reveals the critical change that made western civilization possible. Within the matrix of ancient religions and philosophies, life was seen as part of an endless cycle of birth and death; time was like a wheel, spinning ceaselessly. Yet somehow, the ancient Jews began to see time differently. For them, time had a beginning and an end; it was a narrative, whose triumphant conclusion would come in the future

    Joel Rich

  2. I have it on god authority that Ariel in Israel is looking for a new Chief Rabbi. There should also be room for your kollel...