Tazria/Metzora. A double torah portion seemingly about scaly skin diseases and plagues on one’s home. Not the most interesting or uplifting of parshiyot-or so we think. But as we already learned from Lauren this morning there is a tremendous amount that we can learn from today’s parasha, especially with regard to healing those in our community who are ill and ensuring that they don’t get sick, if possible.
I would like to jump off of that and take it a step further, but thinking about this week’s parasha in the context of the set of the Modern Jewish Holidays that we are in the midst of commemorating and celebfating.
Last Monday night our community gathered together to commemorate Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust, the deepest, darkest days of our people’s recent history. And then this Monday andTuesday the Jewish world pauses to mark Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day and Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence day.
As I think about these three holidays together, especially as we live freely in America as Jews and as I plan to board a plane tonight to Israel, I want to think about these holidays in connection to our parasha. We often say that people are “out of sight, out of mind.” This is of course a fear in our parasha. That we put those with the disease outside the camp. But that is actually to give them room to heal. Throughout the process of their healing the Priest goes out, checks them, and brings them back into re-enter. No one is ever forgotten. So too with the holidays of this week. Even though the days and the years pass, and we live far away from Israel, those deeply connected of course, we must remember those who have come before us-those who have often had to remain outside the camp, those whose stories weren’t told, and we need to welcome them back in.
So this morning, I would like to think about each holiday to pay tribute to those people who were affected by the events that led to these modern jewish holidays and our lives today.
Let me begin with Yom HaShoah, The full name of the day commemorating the victims of the Holocaust is “Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah“– literally the “Day of (Remembrance of) the Holocaust and the Heroism.”This was a complicated holiday for many years-First the question was, do we remember the victimhood? The survivors? Those that resisted? In Israel people were nervous about “only” remembering the horror lest they seem weak as they were building a state. Over the last 70 years however there has been a profound understanding of so many different people’s stories and how all of them, collectively, had an impact on the memory of those dark years. Further, there is a question-how do we memorialize this? Rabbi Elliot Malomet once said, “There is no prescribed ritual for the observance of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) because it defies all ritualization.” While that is theologically true, we know that there is a need for ritual. At our congregation we certainly have a ritual. There are songs that we chant, there are candles that we light, there are survivors that we walk. In Israel there were rabbis and scholars that created a Megiallat HaShoah, a modern megillah of the atrocities which parallel what we can read in the book of lamentations with both a 3rd person and a 1st person recounting of the events.
There is another ritualized moment that is quite profound: Since the early 1960s, the sound of a siren on Yom Hashoah stops traffic and pedestrians throughout the State of Israel for two minutes of silent devotion. The siren blows at sundown and once again at 11 a.m. on this date. All radio and television programs during this day are connected in one way or another with the Jewish destiny in World War II, including personal interviews with survivors. Even the musical programs are adapted to the atmosphere of Yom Hashoah. There is no public entertainment on Yom Hashoah, as theaters, cinemas, pubs, and other public venues are closed throughout Israel. In North America many Yom Hashoah programs feature a talk by a Holocaust survivor, recitation of appropriate songs and readings, or viewing of a Holocaust-themed ࡆlm. Some communities choose to emphasize the depth of loss that Jews experienced in the Holocaust by reading the names of Holocaust victims one after another — dramatizing the unfathomable notion of six million deaths.
Yom HaZikaron is a holiday that is extraordinarily “well done.” Unlike the memorial day celebrations in the US which kick off summer Yom Hazikaron in Israel has a different feel- Yom Hazikaron: Israel’s Memorial Day is a day honoring fallen soldiers that immediately precedes Israel’s Independence Day. The fourth of Iyar, the day preceding Israel’s Independence Day, was declared by the Israeli Knesset (parliament) to be a Memorial Day for those who lost their lives in the struggle that led to the establishment of the State of Israel and for all military personnel who were killed while in active duty in Israel’s armed forces. Joining these two days together conveys a simple message: Israelis owe the independence and the very existence of the Jewish state to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for it. The most noticeable feature of the day is the sound of a siren that is heard throughout the country twice, during which the entire nation observes a two-minutes “standstill” of all traffic and daily activities. The first siren marks the beginning of Memorial Day at 8 p.m., and the second is at 11 a.m., before the public recitation of prayers in the military cemeteries. All radio and television stations broadcast programs portraying the lives and heroic deeds of fallen soldiers. Most of the broadcasting time is devoted to Israeli songs that convey the mood of the day.
In honor and memory of this day, I would like to share a poem by Natan Alterman.
The Silver Platter
And the land grows still, the red eye of the sky slowly dimming over smoking frontiers
As the nation arises, Torn at heart but breathing, To receive its miracle, the only miracle
As the ceremony draws near, it will rise, standing erect in the moonlight in terror and joy
When across from it will step out a youth and a lass and slowly march toward the nation
Dressed in battle gear, dirty, Shoes heavy with grime, they ascend the path quietly
To change garb, to wipe their brow
They have not yet found time. Still bone weary from days and from nights in the field
Full of endless fatigue and unrested,
Yet the dew of their youth. Is still seen on their head
Thus they stand at attention, giving no sign of life or death
Then a nation in tears and amazement
will ask: “Who are you?”
And they will answer quietly, “We Are the silver platter on which the Jewish state was given.”
Thus they will say and fall back in shadows
And the rest will be told In the chronicles of Israel
Just as we recall those who were outside the camp, it is our duty, our obligation, to care for those members of the IDF who give their blood, sweat, and tears to the Jewish state. The sacrifices they make is something that we must recall as we welcome in Israel’s Independence day.
Israel’s Independence Day is celebrated on the fifth day of the month of Iyar, which is the Hebrew date of the formal establishment of the state, when members of the “provisional government” read and signed a Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv. The original date corresponded to May 14, 1948. This year, the 5th of Iyar is on May 1.
We learn that “The official “switch” from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha’atzmaut takes place a few minutes after sundown, with a ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem in which the flag is raised from half staff (due to Memorial Day) to the top of the pole. The president of Israel delivers a speech of congratulations, and soldiers representing the army, navy, and air force parade with their flags.”
The celebration of these holidays as American Jews is crucial as we connect with the land and State of Israel. As it says in HaTikvah, “With eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion” we know that there are ways of learning about and supporting Israel.
I once heard Member of Knesset Tzipi Livni, speak. She spoke passionately about our shared future that is inextricably tied together. She reminded us how “together we crossed the sea, together we came to Sinai, together we prayed to Jerusalem, together we created the Zionist dream, together we died in the Shoah (the Holocaust), together we fought for legitimacy, and together we hope for peace.” So for Livni, in thinking about the Zionist dream, Israel can’t succeed if it is only about creating a halachik state, nor can it only be about a Jewish majority. Rather, it needs to be a national society connected by a shared history, religion, values, and traditions, connected deeply with Jews throughout the world. I would encourage each of us not only this month, but in months to come, to find ways to deepen our connection with the Jewish people and with Israel, because all of us are responsible for our shared future.
So in thinking about all of this, I have to ask, what binds us together? What are we seeking? We are seeking memory. We are seeking community. We are seeking a future. And I also believe, we are seeking peace. Just as those who were traveling in the desert wanted a camp of wholeness and holiness, which is reflected in the world Shalom and Shalem, so too, today, we seek peace. We recall those who we haven’t seen but we still speak about. We tell their stories and we dream together.
And, so in conclusion, just as we are celebrating an incredible 13 year old today, Lauren, let me conclude with a poem by a 13 year old in Jerusalem.
Shlomit Grossberg, Age 13, Jerusalem
What shall I ask You for. God?
I have everything.
There’s nothing I lack.
I ask only for one thing
And not for myself alone;
It’s for many mothers, and.children, and fathers —
Not just in this land, but in many lands hostile to each other
I’d like to ask for Peace
Yes, it’s Peace I want,
And You, You won’t deny the single wish of a girl.
You created the Land of Peace,
Where stands the City of Peace,
Where stood the Temple of Peace,
But where still there Is no Peace
What shall I ask You for; God? I have everything.
Peace is what I ask for