May 14, 1948. A ceremony was held in the Tel Aviv Museum (known today as Independence Hall) where Israel was declared an independent nation. The event was broadcast live as the first transmission of the new radio station, Kol Yisrael. This momentous occasion is remembered and celebrated each year during Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. The week leading up to that celebration honors the long road that led to it. Together, Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, and Yom HaAtzmaut make up the Modern Israeli Holidays. When the siren sounds at 8pm in Israel on Yom Hazikaron, Israeli citizens pause whatever they are doing, wherever they are, to take a moment of silence for those lives lost by terror. The entire country comes together as solemn music is played across the airwaves.
“Every Israeli knows someone who has fallen,” Chief Program Officer Holly Wolfson said. “It affects everyone because Israel is a small country and all citizens have an obligation to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.”
In Cincinnati, Yom Hazikaron is commemorated with a ceremony honoring soldiers who have fallen.
When Yom Hazikaron ends, the community flips a switch to begin the celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut. In true Jewish fashion, the bitter is followed by the sweet.
The Mayerson JCC, in partnership with The Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center and the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, will host events honoring the full journey from Holocaust Remembrance Day through Independence Day the week of May 1. A portion of the Yom Hazikaron program is funded by the JCC Assocation of North America.
“It’s important for the Jewish community in Cincinnati to commemorate the Modern Israeli Holidays,” Wolfson said. “It creates a space for Israelis to mourn and celebrate, and it’s an opportunity for American Jewish people to gain better understanding of the sacrifices and culture of Israeli Jews.”
In the past few years, the celebrations have been a little different due to the pandemic. In 2020 everything was spread out through a whole week, and all done virtually. There were virtual programs with dancing, kids and adults cooking programs, and an Israeli playlist was used for the drive-in fireworks display. In 2021 and again this year, the J is offering a hybrid celebration. The Modern Israeli Holidays hold a special place in the heart of Devra Sadler, Manager of Youth, Family, and Jewish Life, as it was a new experience for her when she started organizing the event.
“Every single year has been different,” Sadler said. “It’s been exciting to change things up. With last year being the first with a fireworks display, we were very unique in the way we celebrated, and we were very visible in the community.”
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, people came out in crowds for the drive-in fireworks show. Sadler hopes that enthusiasm carries into this year. This May, people will be able to spend time with each other, catch up with friends, and enjoy a few treats like Bomba and Kona Ice.
It’s such a big event that the whole community really does watch, including people in the nearby neighborhoods. Yom HaAtzmaut expands into the broader community, and everyone can enjoy the Phantom Fireworks display.
“We are able to connect with people not necessarily in our community,” Sadler said. “It broadens our reach and maintains our connections.”
These events are important to building a thriving Jewish community. Wolfson got involved in running them herself after attending one.
“I went to a JCC Yom HaAtzmaut with an Israeli friend,” Wolfson said. “A few years later I took a position at the J and started planning those same events in partnership with the Federation. I learned so much about the holidays and their importance.”
Next year, the celebrations will be even bigger as we will reach the 75-year milestone for Israeli independence.
“People are itching to be in person,” Sadler said. “More people are coming around, and everyone can still feel safe celebrating outdoors. We’re looking forward to a great series of events this year.”