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By Vavi Toran
On Friday night I watched on Israeli TV an incredible news story related to Yom Ha’shoa - Holocaust Memorial Day. The story was about a Jewish-German girl murdered in the Holocaust, whose pendant was recently found at the site of the Sobibor death camp in Poland. The story broke out a few months ago, but recently there were some new developments. Not only did the researchers identify who that girl was, but they also managed to find some of her family members who did not know about each other's existence.
For me, who grew up knowing that I lost two grandparents, eight uncles and aunts and many more relatives to a similar faith, it was a moving moment. Very few memories were shared with me by my father and two surviving aunts, all of whom have left Europe before the war. The only mementos I have are a handful of fading photos on the back of which my aunt scribbled, upon my request, the names of all of them and added “all killed by the Nazis, may their names and memories be wiped off (“Yimach sh’mam ve’zichram”). I was therefore very moved by the story of a small object like that pendant, which brought to life seventy years later a little girl named Karoline Cohn and which has the power to unite a family.
May her memory and the memories of all who perished be blessed
The story in the news:
Starting right after Passover, which marks the exodus and the journey of a people toward its promised land – Eretz Israel, there is a succession of commemorations and holidays marking another, more recent journey, building up to becoming a sovereign state – Medinat Israel. The “Yoms” (days), as many of us refer to them, are Yom Ha’shoa (Holocaust Memorial Day), Yom Ha’zikaron (Israel Memorial Day), Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day).
This year, Israel’s 69th birthday, also marks several significant anniversaries: 100 years to the Balfour Declaration (1917), a diplomatic foundation stone of the State of Israel; 70 years to the U.N. dramatic vote to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states (1947); and 50 years to the Six-Day War and the Reunification of Jerusalem (1967).
For those of us who were around during the Six-Day War it comes as somewhat of a shock to realize that around 80 percent of the current population of Israel was not yet born when it took place. They, their counterparts on the Palestinian side, and our own Jewish community members, the students and their parents, were all born into today’s reality. While some wars fade into relative obscurity, this one remains as relevant today as in 1967. Many authors, commentators and politicians refer to the last fifty years as the "seventh day" since the war's core issues continue to be disputed, unresolved and in the news. In short, it’s complicated...
The resources we chose to highlight reflect on some of these issues, and also on the many reasons to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day!
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
Photojournalist David Rubinger (1924-2017)
Arguably the most famous image of the Six-Day War was shot by David Rubinger, the legendary Israeli photographer behind an iconic photo of Israeli paratroopers entering the Western Wall for the first time. Rubinger, who died recently at the age of 92, was awarded the Israel Prize for his works in 1997. Rubinger's photographs captured key moments in Israel's history and helped define its collective consciousness.
A Meeting Place of Sabra Poetry and Jewish Liturgy
A song for Yom Ha'zikaron
How do we remember on Remembrance Day for Israel's Fallen Soldiers? Who and what shape collective memory? In Israel, somber songs take center stage on radio waves and in commemoration ceremonies. A dominant staple on every such occasion is the song “Bab el Wad” written by poet and former Palmahnik Haim Guri. The legendary song has always been associated with Zionism, heroism, independence and the image of the new Jew - the Israeli who fights for his country.
The song inspired one of the greatest paytanim (Mizrahi liturgical poets) of the 20th century, Rabbi David Buzaglo of Morocco, who came to Israel in the early 1960s. Rabbi Buzaglo wrote his own words to the well-known melody of Guri’s poem.
The piyyut "Binu Na Mordim" (Wise Up, O Rebels!) offers a different way to shape the memory of the past than is customary in the days of Israeli national memory. The piyyut tries to inspire us to shape our future by way of peace and prayer, with a strong connection to the sources. Rabbi Buzaglo designs a different memory and reflects a different Israeli identity. Reading the two songs together is a study in shaping the collective memory. Singing them together, which is more and more the case in recent years, creates an inclusive collective experience.
Conversation between Haim Guri and Meir Buzaglo (Rabbi David Buzaglo's son and a pioneer in bringing piyuttim to the mainstream)
Video from the musical "Mi Shehalam" ("He Who Dreamed") based on the last 10 years of the life of Yitzhak Rabin. Bab el Wad by Haim Guri sung by Harel Skaat
Bab el Wad
Binu Na Mordim (Wise Up, O Rebels!)
Wise Up, O Rebels!
R. David Buzaglo (Casablanca, 1950s)
Wise up, O battle-eager murderous rebels!
You must not stand against a people who intimately
Speak to the One who dwells in the heavens,
the Omnipotent, the Eternal,
in His shade they put their trust and safety.
Remember a passing day was made for creation
The angelic advocates of peace have cried loudly to God:
But man is quick to fight!
Therefore you (men) must call for peace,
Man, the crown of creation, has been created like a king,
so as to build the deserts, to plant the desolated places,
but he has ruined the fields ofplenty and turned citadels
and palaces to rubble.
Honest Jacob sought peace softly and gently,
Both with his brothers and with his opponents.
We were persecuted, strangled in days of hatred and fury,
but we have always pursued peace, we, his descendents.
The Tetragrammaton was erased in the Temple‘s
water and given to Sotah (woman defiled by jealousy)
to drink in order to prove her innocence
and bring peace between her and her husband.
Israel’s History and Society - Online University Courses
Open to all and free!
Where to find quality learning opportunities about Israel is a challenge for many educators. We are in luck! The Israel Institute in partnership with leading Israeli universities has launched two MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses). These courses are offered through Coursera, an online platform housing courses created by accredited institutions of higher learning.
Read more about it
A History of Modern Israel: From an Idea to a State (Part 1)
These courses are frontal but pretty informative albeit the heavy Hebrew accents (look who’s talking...) and the sometimes inaccurate subtitles. Most are in English and some are in Hebrew with subtitles.
Jewish LearningWorks Israel Education Resources
Getting ready for Yom Ha’atzmaut?
Get in touch with Vavi Toran with any questions.
Here is a sample from a downloadable special Poster Tales lesson for Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim).
This 1968 poster marks twenty years to Israeli independence and the return to holy sites in Jerusalem following the Six-Day War. It was designed by the artist Kopel Gurwin as a Parochet (the ornamental curtain covering the front of the ark in the synagogue), in the center of which two lions form the base of a seven-branched candelabra. The depiction of the menorah is reminiscent of the description in Exodus (Shemot) 25 where the instruction for its construction is filled with terms borrowed from botany: it had stalks, bowls like almonds, bulbs and flowers. Red flowers, such as Anemones (kalaniyot) and Maccabees’ Blood (dam ha’makabim), symbolize fallen soldiers. The word Yerushalayim is spelled out in the flowers.
The menorah and the two supporting lions were adopted as the central theme for the official shield of the city of Jerusalem. The lion was the symbol for the tribe of Judah whose territory included Jerusalem. Here they represent the unification of the city, and perhaps the troops entering the old city through the Lions’ gate. The artistic medium is appliqué, for which this artist was famous.
Resources Related to the Six-Day War
Curricula and Lessons
Center for Israel Education new curriculum
The June 1967 War: How It Changed Jewish, Israeli and Middle Eastern History
Opinions and Ideas
Yeshayahu Leibowitz (1903-1994) was an Israeli Jewish public intellectual, professor of biochemistry, organic chemistry and neurophysiology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a polymath known for his outspoken opinions on Judaism, ethics, religion and politics.
In a 1987 interview he gave his opinion about the aftermath of the Six-Day War:
“The turning point of the 1967 Six-Day War was the seventh day. On that day we had to decide whether that war was a war of defense or a war of conquest. And we decided post facto that it was a war of conquest.” To Leibowitz, the years since have been characterized by "a long process of decline, internally and externally, exposing what was once seen as Israel's "brilliant victory" as "a historical disaster."
Resources for Yom Ha’atzmaut
Voices of Jerusalem - Video, Jerusalem municipality