Listening and the Israeli High Holy Days

When we Jews outside of the land of Israel hear the phrase “High Holy Days,” we think of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. However, there is another set of High Holy Days, holidays of utmost importance, almost universally observed in Israel. These days are Yom HaShoah, Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day (which fell last week); and Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism, and Yom Ha’atzma-ut, Israeli Independence Day (which this year fall on April 22 and 23).

When in Israel, it is hard to miss these commemorations. Air raid sirens sound on the eve of the holiday and at the start of memorial services the next day. People stop and stand in silent respect, even stopping their cars as they remember those who have lost their lives for the country in which they live. Music on the radio is somber and commemorative in the spirit of the day.

As a Jewish educator and a person who has spent time living in Israel, I am constantly on the hunt for ways in which to bring these experiences to the Jews of the United States. In the course of my Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati fellowship this year at the Valley Temple, I recently realized that hearing sounds and truly internalizing them by listening is a powerful way to create connections between traditions that span thousands of miles and dozens of years. We recognize this as we incorporate different melodies into our worship services; we listen to the prayers that we chant and sing on a regular basis, and we create our own beautiful harmonies, thus uniting us as one common voice.

Our daily liturgy provides a wonderful reminder of how we come together as one voice. We recite Shma YisraelShma can be understood both as to listen and to hear. Throughout the year, we listen as stories are shared and lessons are taught about the losses suffered by the Jewish community during the Holocaust and about the losses and victories during the State of Israel’s short life. This cycle of Israeli national holidays provide an outlet for all of us to not only hear these recollections, but to truly listen to and understand what they are saying. In order to connect to these days of commemoration, we can be even more focused in our listening through the use of music, which helps to bring together the sound of song and word to create an intimate experience.

Most famously, this can be seen through the use of Hatikvah, “The Hope,” Israel’s national anthem. The different ways in which the words are set to music allow people to connect to the emotion of the day. For Yom HaShoah the music is slower, more somber and quiet. On Yom Ha’atzma-ut, these same words can be sung with a more upbeat tempo and in louder more excited voices. By sharing the beautiful words and music of this anthem with students, they can not only hear the song but also truly listen and internalize the feeling of the day. As the sirens in Israel wail to commemorate the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish and Israeli people, we too stop to remember. We suspend our regular activities to rise and sing together the lyrics and melody which convey our shared feeling, “As long as in the heart a Jewish soul still yearns…our hope is not yet lost.”

Jessica Wainer is a Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati fellow serving The Valley Temple under the guidance of Rabbi Sandford Kopnick.

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