April 9, 2021 – כ”ז בניסן תשפ”א
In one short week, we marked our people’s Exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the sea, and our formative moments of becoming a free people on our way to our Land. We commemorated the 6 million Jewish victims of the Shoah and many more millions of human beings who perished at the hands of evil during those tragic years of incomparable destruction that changed the face of Jewish life and humanity forever. And tomorrow, in Parashat Shmini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47), we read of another ‘consummation by fire’ (the literal meaning of the word Holocaust) of Aaron’s two sons Nadav and Avihu.
With the historic framework of this week’s events, we saw the President of Israel tap Prime Minister Netanyahu to form the next government for the 8th time in 25 years, the result of which causes great
concern over his potential coalition partners. We also saw the swearing-in of Israel’s 24th Knesset (the 4th swearing-in ceremony in 2 years) and the historic swearing-in of Rabbi Gilad Kariv as the first Reform rabbi in Israel’s history to serve in the Knesset. Prior to his swearing-in, the Israeli Reform movement joined together at the egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall for a celebratory tefilah in Rabbi Kariv’s honor. With Torah scroll in hand, this moment marks the fulfillment of another kind of religious Zionism, a Zionism that encompasses our deep connection and passion for the importance of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, and our commitment to the prophetic Jewish vision of equality, justice, and freedom. It is the vision of universalism and particularism, of joining our collective fate with our joint destiny.
How symbolic indeed that the Shabbat between Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel’s Memorial Day for its Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror, and Israeli Independence Day is about life, death, and then life again – in the past and in the future.
Israeli Reform Rabbi Mordechai Rotem suggests that these seven days between Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel’s Memorial Day, and Israeli Independence Day ought to serve a similar purpose as the ten days of teshuvah between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. He gives these days a name: “שבעת ימי תעודה – Shivat Yemai Teudah,” or the “Seven Days of Bearing Witness.” He explains the meaning this way:
“During the Seven Days of Bearing Witness ….. the nation of Israel needs to, as a community, examine themselves, check from year to year how much they are succeeding in fulfilling the destiny that has fallen to them, their mission, the legacy of death and the Holocaust, and the legacy of life with Independence Day. During these seven days, it is appropriate that the nation of Israel engages in introspection and self-reflection about how they are measuring up to this destiny that stands before them: to build the future of the nation of Israel, for each individual himself. These ‘Seven Days of Bearing Witness’ need to apply also to the individual, and especially to society and its institutions, the public institutions. Different divisions of society need to examine themselves and their activities during these days.”
The Shabbat between Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom Haatzmaut is called Shabbat “Tekumah – Shabbat of Revival.” The Hebrew word “Tekumah” originates from the word “lakum,” to rise or stand up. The process of revival that we commemorate expresses our people’s revival from the ashes of the Holocaust, through the heroism and grief of Israeli wars, to the joy over the miracle of Jewish independence and sovereignty.
Shabbatot that take place during special times of the year are given names accordingly. So, the initiative to set a special Shabbat before Yom Ha’atzmaut, follows the model of Shabbat Shuva between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, Shabbat HaGadol before Passover, and Shabbat Hazon before Tisha b’Av. The initiative to call this Shabbat, “Shabbat T’kuma” began at Kehillat Har’el – the most veteran Israeli Reform congregation over the past six decades. Since then, this tradition has spread to Reform congregations across the country and around the world. We commemorate this Shabbat in a variety of ways –blowing of the shofar, reading
the Israeli Declaration of Independence (using the same tropes as one uses for the Haftarah or Megillot), and lighting the seven-candlestick Menorah (a State symbol) signifying Israel’s independence.
During these Seven Days of Bearing Witness there is a mournful atmosphere. A sadness wafts through the air as we feel the weight of loss for those who fell in defense of the country, as victims of terror and persecution, and, this year, for those who lost their lives to the global pandemic.
We Jews always ought to examine the history of our people through a long-term lens. To this end, we ought to consider our modern days of remembrance as an inseparable part of the long heritage of the Jewish people and to regard Independence Day as an inseparable continuation of the previous Independence Days of the Jewish people. Our first Independence Day, Pesach, commemorates leaving slavery for freedom and establishing an independent nation more than 3200 years ago. Our second Independence Day, Hanukkah, recalls our people’s re-establishment of sovereignty more than 2250 years ago. And our third Independence Day on the 5th of Iyar 5708 – May 14, 1948, celebrates our people’s declaration of the State of Israel 2000 years after the Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
And on these historic, fateful, and celebratory days spanning the length of Jewish history, we also look to the future of our people. Many of us spend much time focusing on Israel’s problems, challenges, mistakes, and the threats it faces –internally and externally. But, as we rise from our time of mourning for those consumed by fire, those who sacrificed themselves for Kiddush HaShem, let us not react like Aaron, “who was silent” (Leviticus 10:3) after the death of his sons. Let us raise our voices as an affirmation of our Jewish identity as the Song of Songs calls us to do: “Let me hear your voice; For your voice is sweet” (2:14) and then celebrate all that we have accomplished. Let us who live outside the State of Israel rejoice in all of her many contributions to Jewish life and the world, and all that we have derived from and have given to the State. And this year let us commit ourselves to building new connections, learning from one another’s experiences, and strengthening the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State.