From Sadness to Celebration

Friends, earlier this week, organizations from across our community came together to commemorate Yom HaZikaron (Israel's Memorial Day) and celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel's Independence Day) in a unique transition ceremony. In this week's Shabbat message, Rabbi Tuvia Brander of Young Israel of West Hartford shares his reflections on organizing and participating in this very special program. I hope you find his words as meaningful as I do. Shabbat Shalom. - Howard

On Wednesday evening, I joined over 350 of my friends and fellow members of the Greater Hartford Jewish community for a Tekes Maavar (transition ceremony) commemorating Yom HaZikaron and celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut.

We at the Young Israel of West Hartford are especially proud to have pioneered this program, and this year we were privileged to collaborate with the Mandell JCC and the Jewish Federation on our community's second annual Tekes Maavar. In partnership with our local Jewish Day Schools - Sigel Hebrew Academy, Hebrew High School of New England, New England Jewish Academy and Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford - and with help from JTConnect teens, we tried to craft a ceremony worthy of these two sacred moments on our modern Jewish calendar. Together we shared in sorrow and pain, recognizing the heavy price paid by so many for the State of Israel - our modern miracle - and paying tribute to our precious fallen brethren. And together we transitioned from sadness to celebration as we marveled at the last 71 years and looked to the future with sweet anticipation for ba'shana habaah - what next year could bring.

But as we worked to create a meaningful tribute, we also wrestled with our underlying message. After all, when the blue and white decorations are back in storage and the final coals of our Independence Day mangal (Israeli BBQ; it is practically a mitzvah to BBQ on Yom HaAtzmaut in Israel) have gone out, we still face existential threats including rockets, terrorist acts, and the growing scourge of anti-Semitism and its ugly sibling, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. After the enormous price our people have paid and continue to pay for our homeland and its independence, how can we move forward?

I am reminded of Ari Fuld zt"l and the speech he delivered last year on Yom HaZikaron, just five months before he was murdered by a terrorist. Fuld, a dedicated husband, a devoted father of four and an American oleh (immigrant to Israel) explained:

"When someone dies, the pain is enormous. You're lost. You don't know what to do. So of course, you mourn. You have to mourn. But what happens afterward, after the mourning? Do we live or do we get stuck in our depression and lose life? If you ask the person who you are mourning and crying over what they would want you to do, the answer is, of course, they don't want you to cry over them. They want you to live life. They died. They're gone. Realize life is fragile! Make sure your life is relevant. It's not about how long you lived. It's about what you do with your life. It doesn't last forever."

As we emerge from the pains of Yom HaZikaron and the peaks of Yom HaAtzmaut, we are reminded that we must never take our lives for granted. We must dedicate the time we are gifted to matters of relevance, commit our lives to matters of meaning and attach our fragile years to causes and goals greater and more lofty than ourselves.

Wednesday night, as I looked out at the overflowing crowd, the generations of our community coming together and the unique collaboration of so many communal institutions, as I saw Israeli expat Sabras sitting alongside Jewish American Yankees and the beautifully rich and vibrant tapestry that is our community and our people, I realized that the question is never how can we move forward - the question is always how can we not.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Tuvia Brander

Young Israel of West Hartford

Photo caption: Lighting torches for Yom HaAtzmaut at Greater Hartford's second annual community Tekes Maavar (transition ceremony). Photo courtesy of Young Israel of West Hartford.