What our upcoming holidays teach us
The upcoming Jewish holidays include both the saddest and the most joyous for Israel: our people and our homeland. These holidays remember seminal events in our history. The only holiday missing from this list is Tisha b’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. It mourns the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish people during the destruction of the first and second temples. It takes place this year in August.
The holidays might be summarized as “they tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat” – Jewish bipolar existence. But they teach us more.
The upcoming holiday season starts with Purim on March 17th. Purim serves as the archetype of the others. During Purim, we remember. We remember that our enemies try to eliminate our people. We remember that our people fought back in ancient Persia. Their efforts allow us to retell the tale of Esther, Mordecai, and Haman.
Purim is followed by Pesach / Passover, which we observe this year from April 16-23. During Passover, we remember our plight in Egypt, living in exile, and the perils faced by our people. It also rejoices, commanding us to remember our people’s journey through the wilderness to our homeland.
Our joy at redemption is short-lived as we next observe Yom Hashoah on April 28th. This holiday also bids us recall the dangers of living in exile in Europe around WWII. Like Purim, our people were accepted and felt safe until they tried to kill us once again.
Our mourning continues with the observance of Yom Hazikaron on May 4th. This day serves as a collective Yahrzeit (annual remembering). It commemorates all those who died at the hands of our Jewish state’s enemies.
We are commanded to remember and forbidden to stay sad. We grieve at the loss of our loved ones and rejoice that our enemies failed. Indeed, Yom Ha’atzmaut, which falls on May 5th this year, celebrates our joy. Our people Israel returned from exile to reclaim our birthright, Israel, our ancient homeland.
The most recent holiday, Yom Yerushalayim, May 29th this year, celebrates Jerusalem’s reunification. “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither.” Jordan invaded, occupied, and divided Jerusalem for 19 years at the birth of Israel’s statehood. During this period, Jordan ethnically cleansed Jews from all areas they conquered, including Jerusalem, and moved Arabs into the homes of the Jews they exiled. On Jerusalem Day, we celebrate the reunification of our holiest city.
For all her achievements, Israel has problems. While we await the messiah to fulfill prophecy, perfection eludes our state. The problem is that all have differing ideas of perfection. And we argue. In Israel, it is not only permissible to criticize the policies of whichever government is then in power; it is Israel’s national sport. Let us never forget that while Israel is far from perfect, she is the only Jewish state.
The upcoming holidays share the theme of overcoming danger. Today, as throughout our history, we need to respond to Jew-hatred. Today, many of us fear physical attack for wearing a Star of David or kippah in public. If our holidays teach us anything about our history in exile, they remind us that our neighbors’ friendship has been fleeting throughout our history. Some of us have known antisemitism first-hand. Others only now are feeling its cruel grip.
Jew-hatred is now multifaceted, coming from many sources: the political left and the right, some Churches and Mosques, and especially the UN. Hatred of our people is now an epidemic. NPR reports that Jewish Americans are terrified amid antisemitic attacks. Let us learn from our holidays. They teach us that living in exile is perilous.