By Jeff Rosenthal and Adam Minsky
It’s an experience that takes your breath away.
As we write to you from Tel Aviv, we’re still feeling the extraordinary energy from last night, when we joined Israelis in marking the transition from Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) to Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day). Together with hundreds of Canadian Jewish community members who have joined our Israel 75 mission, we’ve seen firsthand the emotional rollercoaster that Israelis experience every year over 48 hours of mourning and celebration.
This milestone 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding is a powerful reminder of what these special days means for all of us, as Jews living in 2023.
First, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut are foremost about gratitude.
Whatever challenges the Jewish people face (and there are many), these two special days invite us to step back and simply appreciate the modern-day miracle of Israel’s existence. It’s a time to rekindle our memory of those who have fallen in defence of the country or in acts of terrorism, recognizing in gratitude and humility that freedom isn’t free.
And it’s a moment to renew our sense of awe for Israel’s many extraordinary achievements. So too, in a country where ordinary street signs display in Hebrew the names of Jewish heroes, everyday life in Israel feels no less miraculous given the arc of Jewish history. Today is our day to appreciate it all.
Second, Yom Ha’atzmaut is about what unifies us in our love for Israel.
Throughout the year, Israelis debate how to make Israel the very best it can be—wrestling with many of the same political choices other democracies face. While the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) is currently on a break for the holiday season, it’s encouraging that President Herzog has convened negotiations between the government and opposition regarding judicial reform.
Our hope is that this dialogue will open the door to compromise and consensus, enabling the citizens of this vibrant democracy to move forward with renewed unity. But today, Israelis set aside those debates to celebrate as one nation—and show their pride in this remarkable country.
Throughout the year, we do our part as a Toronto Jewish community to make Israel an even better home for all. When Israelis debate their future, we lean in to show that we care—and to share our own hopes and concerns. And when Israelis are hurting, we pitch in to help those who need it.
This is at the heart of our approach to funding projects in Israel, including those supported by donations to the Walk with Israel. Regardless of the party in power, our funding isn’t directed to government. Rather, it’s invested in non-profits that strengthen civil society and serve Israelis experiencing vulnerability.
This important work continues year-round. But, in a world that’s often divided, Yom Ha’atzmaut teaches us that everything has its time and place—including moments that call for pure celebration and unity. Today, as on May 22nd when we Walk with Israel, it’s our chance to pause from our day-to-day efforts and simply celebrate as one unified and proud Jewish community.
Because whether walking the streets of Tel Aviv or Walking with Israel on Bathurst Street, these are the unforgettable moments that remind us of who we are and why we need each other.
Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach,
PS: As a special gift from our friend and longtime community leader David Matlow, we invite you to download 75 Treasures: Celebrating Israel at Seventy-Five. As owner of the world’s largest collection of Theodor Herzl memorabilia, David has developed a fascinating e-book highlighting powerful images and historical insights into Zionism, the movement to build a Jewish and democratic state in the Land of Israel. We’re grateful David has made this beautiful resource available to the public free-of-charge, and encourage you to get your copy here.