In the past, I used to shul hop. Shul hopping is the sport of walking to other shuls to daven on Shabbatot and chagim. It is one of the great pleasures I had to give up when I became a pulpit rabbi.
Whenever we visited Jerusalem, we always enjoyed visiting and davening in different shuls. The quality of the scotch at the Kiddush or the vocal skills of the Ba’al Tefillah (prayer leader) were always nice rewards for visiting a new shul. But, frankly, the only thing I really looked for in a new synagogue was the inclusion of prayers for the State of Israel and for the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces in the liturgy. One of the first things I do when I enter a shul is open the siddur to see if those prayers appear as part of the Shabbat service.
As a religious Zionist, I truly believe that our 19th and 20th century return to Zion and the establishment of the State of Israel are miraculous realizations of God’s promise to Avraham, as articulated throughout the Tanach. I maintain there is an obligation to add prayers of Hakarat Hatov (gratitude and thanksgiving) to God for the existence of Medinat Yisrael and for the well-being of all those invested in ensuring its safety and security.
I also expect that the synagogue I daven in marks and observes the new Jewish holidays that have been added to our contemporary Jewish calendar and which actually appear listed on our very own Scotiabank calendar. (Yasher koach to Scotiabank!)
A few days ago, we completed the eight days of Pesach and we are now beginning the Zionist holiday season. This short season includes days of memorial, remembrance and celebration, which are observed by both secular and religious Jews. These days are imbued with traditions, customs, literature and liturgy. They commemorate events never to be forgotten.
I suggest this holiday season – which includes Yom HaShoah, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut – was inspired by the words of Psalm 30, “You have changed lament into dancing; you undid my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, so that my soul might make music.”
A symbolic shiva week of remembrance and mourning commences on the 27th day of Nisan, Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), and finishes seven days later on the fourth day of Iyar, when we mark Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Remembrance Day for its fallen soldiers and those killed in acts of terror.
At the end of this shiva-like week, our moods are dramatically changed. Our spirits are lifted as fireworks light up the sky on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, as Israel’s independence is celebrated as is written in the Book of Esther (8:16), “for the Jews, there was light, gladness, joy and honour.”
Although Israelis continue to argue about how Shabbat is to be observed in the public sphere, when it comes to observing Yom HaShoah and Yom Hazikaron, secular and religious Zionists are unified. Everyone sheds a tear and responds “Amen” to the memorial Kaddish. When the days of memorial are over and Yom Ha’Atzmaut begins, everyone wishes their neighbour, “Chag Sameach!” Some will go to synagogue to say prayers of hallel and thanksgiving. Some will go to the town square to celebrate and dance in the streets. They all share in recognizing one of our people’s greatest accomplishments: the State of Israel.
May the unity experienced during this Zionist holiday season continue throughout the year.