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Sunday night marks the start of the “Yoms” – Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. The former is the national day of remembrance in Israel commemorating the soldiers and others who have lost their lives defending the State of Israel during war or by terror. The latter is Israel Independence Day, a celebration of the founding of the state.

The days will overlap at sundown on Monday night, at which time there is usually a moving ceremony on Mount Herzl. The moment is often marked by fireworks, flyovers, presentations of various kinds and the lighting of twelve torches (representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel) by people who have contributed significantly to Israeli society.

Not this year.

Due to the ongoing war and hostage crisis, the ceremony will be pre-recorded and the torch lighting will be different. Instead of happening at Mount Herzl, each torch will be inside the Gaza border communities and IDF bases attacked by Hamas. And, rather than being lit by individuals, they will be lit by small groups as a way to honor the security forces, rescuers, local security teams, medical personnel, and other first responders who sprung into action on October 7. What many will experience next week is not the traditional shift from the sadness of loss to the celebration of life. It will be a different journey, one from heightened grief to muted joy.

Exactly the opposite of the path on which many of us thought we would be traveling.

The Yoms are a reflection of how our lives have been turned upside down, and we cannot allow these distortions to lead to despair. We must force ourselves to remember that we are the masters of our destiny and summon the resolve to turn things around even as we acknowledge the depth of the challenges we are confronting.

Yom Ha’Zikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut 2024 are clarion calls for Jewish unity and connection. We must come together to respectfully mourn those who made the ultimate sacrifice to secure our existence, honor them by ensuring a positive future, draw strength from their actions, and build upon their selflessness.

It is our turn to carry the torch and light the way to a better tomorrow.

Shabbat Shalom and may this be the week the hostages return home,

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