What do you think the most important events in Jewish history are?

There are countless right answers to this question. You could say anything:

  • The destruction of the Second Temple
  • The Spanish Inquisition
  • The writing of the Talmud
  • The invention of matzah ball soup

All of these are right. Now, if I asked, what have been the most important, defining events in modern Jewish history, what would you say? I’m guessing that two particular responses will come up for almost everyone—the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel. These two events, which happened in close proximity to each other, have completely transformed the modern Jewish experience.

Last week, we observed Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. This is the day that the Jewish community devotes to remembering the victims of the Holocaust. In our community, we are fortunate to have survivors of the Holocaust, who are able to share their stories with us firsthand. Here is just one such story: shalomdc.org/meet-jack-and-ed.

In the coming days, we are going to be observing two more holidays. Yom HaZikaron is Israel’s Memorial Day, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut is Independence Day. The two days fall one right after another, literally. As soon as the sun sets after the national day of mourning, Israelis start partying, with fireworks, barbeques, and huge parties marking the 68th birthday of the State of Israel. It might seem a little weird to go from being sad and mourning the loss of so many soldiers who have given their lives for Israel over the past 68 years to celebrating and being happy. But in Israel, there’s no contradiction. The sacrifice that was made by those who died for the country led to the creation of the State. Therefore, it makes sense to remember the losses before celebrating the end result.

As we come into this season of modern Jewish holidays, take a few minutes to think about how you have been impacted by the Holocaust and the State of Israel.

  • Did your family come to America as a result of the Holocaust?
  • Do you know any survivors (family, friends, community members)? Can you ask them to share their stories with you?
  • Have you been to Israel? If not, be sure to check out shalomdc.org/israelquest to learn about scholarship opportunities for teen travel to Israel!
  • Do you know any Israelis? Ask them how they celebrate these days.