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United With Israel: The Cincinnati Jewish Community Honors the Modern Israeli Holidays

More than 6,200 miles away from Cincinnati, Ohio and 76 years ago, 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.

This year holds special significance as the Cincinnati Jewish community comes together amid a war in Israel. On October 7, 2023, Hamas terrorists led an attack against Israeli civilian communities and several military posts. There are 134 Israeli hostages still held in Gaza. Despite all this, and maybe because of it, there is a profound sense of community, support and a desire to be together for these holidays.

“Being together and showing that we are still here is so important, now more than ever,” Senior Community Shaliach Yarden Neeman said.

Neeman and the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati are working closely with the Mayerson JCC Program team to bring the holidays to life. Senior Director of Sports & Recreation and Special Projects, Anne Goldstein, has been key in organizing the upcoming events.

“So often in these last months, we have gathered in solidarity,” Goldstein said. “While we continue to support Israel’s ongoing needs, we also look forward to a time to celebrate another year of independence.”

On May 5, the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center will host its Yom HaShoah event at the Mayerson JCC. This event calls for people to stand together to remember and mourn the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and honor the survivors.

On May 12, Yom HaZikaron will include a memorial service to honor the soldiers and victims of terror who gave their lives in defense of the State of Israel. The October 7 attack will offer additional meaning and significance. This year’s ceremony will feature stories from members of the Cincinnati community impacted by the war. There will also be an exhibit mirroring Hostage Square in Israel.

Following these events, there will be a community gathering to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut on May 14. While the tone of the celebration this year will be more subdued than in the

past, there is still an eagerness to support the community, Israel, and to celebrate seventy-six years of independence.

“This is Israel’s 76th birthday,” Goldstein said. “This is a big celebration! We’re proud of Israel, we love Israel, and of course, we want to continue to say: ‘We are still here!’”

During the celebrations on May 14, there will be several events taking place. There will be a Mitzvah Fair with a number of local organizations offering projects that will include making no-sew blankets, crafting kindness rocks, painting ceramic flowers, and much more, to support the community.

Israeli Baker, Oz Shahari, will sell pastries and other delicious baked goods to support Kibbutz Maayan Baruch in Israel. Throughout the day, Hoxworth Blood Center will be at the J for those who wish to donate blood.

“We want to showcase the goodness of Israel,” Neeman said. “And we don’t want to feel disconnected from Israel.”

Closing out the day, Israeli photographer Erez Kaganovitz will showcase his Humans of October 7th exhibit. This photo series features the human side of Israel in hopes of encouraging compassion and understanding for the Israeli community. When he leaves Cincinnati, Kaganovitz will travel to other JCCs to talk about Israelis’ bravery and resilience. The exhibit will be on display from May 6 – 14 at the J during regular hours. “I think we struggle a lot with how to carry on,” Neeman said. “We hope that people who come to these events will see bravery, heroism, and resilience through this tragedy. Hopefully, this will be an inspiration to everyone.”

These programs are proudly supported by the Israel Engagement Fund: A JCC Association of North America Program Accelerator and the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.

Photo caption: One of the photos from the Humans of October 7 exhibit by Erez Kaganovitz that will be displayed at the Mayerson JCC from May 6 – May 14.

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