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Celebrating our most recent Jewish Festival with Mixed Emotions

The Jewish calendar is full of emotion and rhythm. It combines the constancy of the solar calendar (which determines the Sabbath) with the variability of the lunar calendar (which determine our festivals). The lunar calendar is a human product, initially dependent on witnesses and then became a fixed equation of the brilliant mathematicians of the Sanhedrin.

There are periods of connectivity within our calendar. There are ten days that link judgement and teshuva (repentance) for the yomim noraiim, the awe of the Jewish new year and Yom Kippur. A three week period, intensified with nine days of contemplative mourning lead us to Tisha B’Av, a commemoration of the destruction of our Temples and other tragic historic events.

We are currently amidst the seven week period of sfirat haomer, an ascending daily count which links the freedom acquired on festival of Pesach to the matan Torah (receiving of the law) on Shavuot. Ostensibly, the connection is to teach that freedom comes with responsibility and obligation.

The sfirat hamoer has traditionally evolved from its agrarian origin to incorporate the experience of mourning, marking the death of 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva attributed to disunity amongst the Jewish population (sinat chinam). This occurred at the time of the Bar Kochba rebellion some 62 years after the destruction of the second Temple. The cause of mourning contrasts from Tisha B’av which resulted from external invasion. The true impact of internally driven Jewish disunity was far more destructive, leaving the consequence of a near 2000 year exile.

The return of the Jewish people to Israel has greatly impacted the calendar rhythm, injecting new celebrations and emotions to complement the mourning of Sefirat Haomer. There are several modern additions to the Jewish calendar that break the historic cycle and disrupt our traditions with new tempos that can remain difficult to reconcile in these days where Israel’s history is still evolving.

The first is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust remembrance day. It is commemorated on 27 Nisan to coincide with the date of the commencement of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943. There has been much discourse as to whether Yom Hashoah should be integrated into Tisha B’Av (also the day where the final solution was decreed) or held as a separate day of commemoration. Ultimately, the Shoah stands alone in modern history, although it still features in the kinot liturgy of Tisha B’av as well.

It is said that Israel arose from the ashes. It is true to say that it arose from the ashes of the Shoah. It is also true to say that it arose from the ashes of the Churban, the destruction of the second Temple. In both instances, the historical context of modern Israel is part of its fabric and identity.

It shortly follows that we commemorate Yom Hazikaron (memorial day for Israel’s fallen soldiers) which morphs into Yom Haatzmaut, the day of independence on 5 Iyar. There is a stirring transition from commemoration to celebration that captures the essence of the Jewish experience.

In more recent times a concept has evolved to juxtapose the days between Yom Hashoah and Yom Haatzmaut with the Aseret Yemei Teshuva. This period has been called the Yemei Hatikvah – the days of hope. The period can vary as Shabbat will alter the actual day of activity. The concept however is very poignant as it signals on a national scale introspection, growth and ultimately redemption.

It is often said that Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust remembrance day is to remind us the price we paid for not having our own State. Yom Hazikaron, memorial day is to remind us the price we’ve paid for having our own State. And Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day reminds us to celebrate how far we’ve come.

Understandably, Yom Haatzmaut this year was subdued due to the Gaza war and current predicament facing Israel and the Jewish world.

Yet tonight we mark the most recent of Jewish celebrations, and one whose significance continues to unfold. Yom Yerushaliem, Jerusalem Day, marks the reunification of Israel’s eternal capital city following the Six Day War of 1967.

It should be incumbent on all to be informed of the history of the Six Day war. It was an existential moment for Israel as the nations of the world looked on (sound familiar?) and almost resigned themselves to the obliteration of Israel due to seemingly insurmountable odds. The closing for the Straits of Tiran and ordering of the UN to leave Egypt was not responded to as a “breach of International law”. Diplomacy was duplicitous against Israel. Yet Israel’s conquest was remarkable, nothing short of a modern miracle as the young and evolving Jewish State defended multiple borders and made territorial gain.

The effect of the Six Day war stirred an awakening amongst the Jewish people. Hundreds of thousands of Jews joined the ingathering of exiles by making Aliyah. Within Israel the personal experiences and national awareness drew many people from secular and agonistic upbringings towards a consciousness of Jewish spirituality. There was a realisation that the strength of Israel is divinely inspired.


Jerusalem, and its Temples are where physicality and spirituality converge. Jerusalem is a metaphor that combine heaven and earth. It is the place that marks the dawn and destiny of our people and our faith. Therefore Yom Yerushaleim has a religious significance that is elevated from Yom Haatzmaut. Both days are inextricably linked in the rebirth of the Jewish nation, binding the ethnic and religious ethos to the land itself, all necessary components of the “trinity” of Jewish identity.

Whilst the religious Zionists of Perth will mark Yom Yerushaliem with Hallel and simcha in our Synagogues, there is no broader communal activity as there was for Yom Haatzmaut. This is not dissimilar to other Diaspora communities. Whilst more prolific in Israel, it is predominantly the dati leumi that take Yom Yerushaliem to the streets as a modern Yom Tov.

But each year the phenomenon grows, and each year it becomes more apparent that the Jewish people are irrepressible due to their heroism and due to their faith. The rhythm of the Jewish calendar continues to continually steer us from mourning to simcha as all the while we see an increase in tempo.

As the new generation of Israel sings in the streets וַהֲבִיאֵנוּ לְצִיּון עִירְךָ בְּרִנָּה, bring us to Zion, your city with joy, we draw inspiration. As difficult as it is in Israel at the moment to battle the forces of evil, and as difficult as it is in the Diaspora to overcome the hate and ignorance of those same forces, Yom Yerushaliem is our beacon that with Hashem’s protection we will prevail – עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי.

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