I am writing this after one of the most memorable, inspiring and remarkable five days. I have been part of World Mizrachi’s week long programme which attracted over a thousand participants from over 48 countries to commemorate, celebrate and learn for Israel 75.
It all began on Monday night, in Binyanei Hauma when over 2000 people witnessed the most moving and heartbreaking Yom Hazikaron ceremony. We heard from Rabbi Leo Dee, Miriam Peretz, Racheli Fraenkel and so many others whose lives have been shattered by war and terror. Yet the emotion that was broadcast most was hope and strength. There was poignant music which added so much to the stories and the message. Tears flowed, but they were tears of admiration and pride, not just of pain and sadness.
Then on Tuesday morning we joined tens of thousands for the official ceremony on Har Herzl, to realise that a whole country stops to honour its dead. On Yom Hazikaron the entire nation remembers its debt and expresses eternal gratitude to its sons and daughters who gave their lives for the achievement of the country’s independence and its continued existence.
We stood at a distance as parents and siblings approached the graves of their children, it was heartbreaking to see family after family arrive to be at the graveside when the siren sounded. There are two Memorial Days on which the siren wails. Yom HaZikaron – to remind us of the cost of having a State of our own, Yom HaShoah – to remind us the cost of not.
Then we and the country began to get ready for a difficult transition. From the pain and tears of Yom Hazikaron to the joy and thanksgiving of Yom Haatzmaut. Tali Dee explained this so beautifully in an article. As she says:
And I always knew that the transition from Memorial Day to Independence Day was extreme but strong. Full of power. And now, now I don’t understand how it can be that Independence Day has arrived. I haven’t the strength to celebrate. How do you make this transition from grief to joy?
And yet, the nation celebrates, celebrating this year the 75th birthday of Medinat Yisrael.
We joined the Orthodox Union and thousands of people for a festive tefillah and then made our way to Sultans Pool for a concert with Ishay Ribo and the ex – Miami Boys Choir that I will remember for a long time. Thousands were in attendance including all the young men and women studying in Yeshiva and Sem. The theme of the concert was Hayinu K’Cholmim, we were like dreamers. As Rabbi Doron Perez reminded us, just over 100 years ago, the place where we were sitting was a pool to give water to the inhabitants of Jerusalem where Jews were forbidden to own any land.
Yet, here we were, a century later, celebrating 75 years of the Jewish State.
Our dreams had become a reality.
Yom Haatzmaut morning was a Shacharit to remember with Yeshivat Makor Chaim, the yeshiva of the three boys murdered nine years ago. It took place in the amphitheatre in the soon to be opened Museum of Tolerance.
It will be a museum for visitors of all ages, religions and cultural backgrounds from throughout the region and the world that will encourage democracy, combat the roots of anti-Semitism and extremism, and promote regional stability, global harmony, human dignity and a love of Israel.
It felt the perfect place to sing and dance as we thanked Hashem for our return with a Hallel that was electric. A museum dedicated to showing where hatred leads, hosted a tefillah service that was all about love, love for each other, love for Medinat Yisrael and love for Hashem.
In the evening the inaugural World Orthodox Israel Congress began where over 1000 delegates from all across the world joined to hear from Chief Rabbi Mirvis who spoke passionately about the need for the Jewish People to live lives dedicated to ‘Torat Chaim,’ a living Torah that was engaged with the world around us.
The following morning we began the Congress, 13 hours of learning together. We heard from Natan Shransky, Miriam Peretz, Rav Herschel Schachter, Rabbi Rimon, Rabbanit Taragin, Sivan Rahav Meir, Rav David Lau and many many more. Thankfully you will be able to hear from many of them as well at the Weekend of Inspiration.
I spoke to 22 of our speakers who are joining us in a couple of weeks for a weekend to remember.
For me the highlight of the day was the opening, when I was asked to represent the United Kingdom in a session of the 48 Countries lead delegates to the congress. To sit in a room with Religious Zionist leaders from across the world was very humbling. We were seated in alphabetical order which meant I was in between Uruguay and Ukraine. We tend to forget how different Jewish life is in other countries and how we must always be grateful for our freedoms. I was honoured to address the delegates about some of the global projects which World Mizrachi will be launching over the next few years which Mizrachi UK will hopefully be spearheading.
The congress gave the ability for Rabbis, teachers and community leaders to share concerns and brainstorm ideas. I am delighted to say that many countries approached Mizrachi UK with a request to start Yehudi in their communities, which hopefully will start happening.
As the last shiur concluded at 11:30pm last night, I reflected on the week I had been a part of and couldn’t get out of my head the start of the laining I had heard that morning from this week’s Parsha.
אַֽחֲרֵ֣י מ֔וֹת שְׁנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֣י אַֽהֲרֹ֑ן
After the death of Aaron’s two sons
The State of Israel was declared ‘Achrei Mot’ of six million.
From the Ashes of the Shoah came the rebirth of the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland. In the parsha, Achrei Mot leads on to Kedoshim where we are shown how to be an Am Kadosh, to live lives to sanctify Hashem and to behave in a just and moral way to all.
I have been privileged this week to be a part of history, to be present at such a milestone, to see with one’s own eyes the miracle that is the State of Israel. Yes, it is not perfect, but we must open our eyes and see the times we are living in and thank God that He has brought us home.
I return to the UK on Monday to continue to get ready for our yearly attempt to bring Torat Yisrael to the United Kingdom. To bring you a taste of what I experienced here over the last five days. Please join us – it will be a weekend to remember.