On the Juxtaposition of Zikaron & Atzma’ut

Translate Yom Hazikaron to English and you get “Memorial Day”: end of spring to summer weather; BBQ’s with beer and wine; a long awaited weekend chill getaway; flowery summer dresses on sale.

Maybe it’s no wonder then that it’s almost impossible to explain this day: Traffic jams at the entrance of cemeteries; sadly familiar heart-breaking music; framed photos and stories of endless love cut short; a candle; grey-haired men crying.

For many in Israel, this day is more serious and holy than Yom Kippur, more soul-searching, thought-provoking, touching, and therefore, much more observed. You might see people biking on Yom Kippur through the empty streets or enjoying a fall day on the beach, claiming that “that’s how they connect to G-d”, but you’re likely to see far fewer, if any, doing so during the memorial siren of Yom Hazikaron. This is a reflection of the new phase of ge’ula גאולה – this time of redemption: it creates its own commemorative day as well as joyful holy-days, which initially are incredibly personal. And perhaps that too makes it ever so hard to communicate.


And then the sun sets and the day is over, and just like this – it’s all gone: the white button-down collar shirt with the memorial sticker, gives way to a fashionable statement; loud speakers in the streets, noisy music, parties, and yes, BBQ’s too. We run from the cemeteries to the dance floors, hold hands, wave flags and cheer. And one wonders, must we?? How about doing it like in the U.S for example, Memorial Day more than a month away from Independence Day – with time to switch moods as needed ?

And yet, we are a People of juxtapositions, of contradictions, able to hold this and that simultaneously, not as a default but as an ideal, knowing that if we let go of one, they’ll both lose their meaning.

We are therefore deeply rooted in a rich past, still mourning a long ago and far away Temple destroyed almost 2000 years ago, and at the same time, equally committed to an even better future, leading the way in creativity and innovation;

We focus our attention and pray for peace in one tiny place 6000 miles away, while we live everywhere around the globe;

We raise our glass with a cheerful Lechayim, not for one minute letting go of what it takes for us to be here, to say that Lechayim

We are people of Juxtapositions.

Last week, we read from the Torah portion of אחרי מות – Acharei Mot, literally meaning – “after the death of”; this week, it’s קדושים Kedoshim, “holy ones”; and the week after, we’ll read אמור “Emor”, say. If we put it all in one sentence, we’ll get – אחרי מות קדושים אמור – “After the death of the holy ones, say”… But wait, Acharei Mot refers to the death of Aaron’s sons, and after their death he was silent! So, should we be silent or say something?? The answer of course is, yes. Let us have our day of silence, sadness and tears today. We’ll be back to doing tomorrow.

(Previous articles on this day here can be found by searching “Yom Hazikaron”)


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2 Responses to On the Juxtaposition of Zikaron & Atzma’ut

  1. Rich Janis says:

    Well said, with your usual talent for artful and meaningful juxtapositions of your own.

  2. neskama says:


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