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From Tears to Joy: The Rebirth of Israel

Memorial wreaths honor Israel's fallen soldiers.

Yom HaZikaron memorial wreaths.  (Photo by the Israeli Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrants Absorption)

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.”  (Psalm 30:11–12)

Today, the sorrow of Yom HaZikaron l’Chalalei Ma’arachot Yisrael ul’Nifgaei Peulot Ha’eivah (the Day of Remembrance for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism), or simply Yom HaZikaron, runs fresh for a nation that saw 67 soldiers and five civilians killed last summer in a defensive war against Gaza’s terrorist network.

Last night Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said during the official torch-lighting ceremony at the Western (Wailing) Wall that Israel must not only survive—it must live.

“We are not people of war.  Our sons did not go to battle thirsty for blood.  Not this past summer, not those before, not in our sorrow in those that God forbid are still to come,” Rivlin explained.  “We are forced to fight.  Our children are sentenced to continue to hold a weapon in order to guard our borders, to defend our homes, on the factory that we have built here.  The defense of our existence is the way of our lives.” 

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin lights the official Yom HaZikaron torch on Memorial Day.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin lit the official Yom HaZikaron torch last night at the Western (Wailing) Wall.

At a ceremony at the Yad LeBanim (Memorial to the Sons) monument in Jerusalem, last night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the families of fallen soldiers: “I know your loss.  I am familiar with your longing.  Thirty-nine years after the fall of my brother, the grief has not eased.”  (Times of Israel)

“On Memorial Day, the nation shares in our grief,” he continued.  “This upright nation today lowers its head and its flag in gratitude that knows no bounds, in the memory of our loved ones who fell.  23,320 fallen in Israel’s wars.  Jews, Christians, Muslims, Bedouin, Druze, Circassians.

“Our sons and daughters gave everything, including their lives, to guarantee the life of our nation and its defense,” Netanyahu said.

“My brothers and sisters, grieving families, the cords that bind us to this land and country are strong and eternal….  The blood of our loved ones is soaked in its earth.  And when the pain waxes, and the agonies of loss intensify, we find comfort in the fact that these sons and daughters died for the noblest of causes: to ensure the survival of this nation.  I say ‘the survival of this nation,’ because there is no future for the Jewish nation without the State of Israel.  And it has a future, if we are wise enough to protect our state.” 

Flags are placed on the graves of Israel's fallen soldiers for Yom HaZikaron.

An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer places new Israeli flags on the graves of IDF soldiers for Yom HaZikaron.

Yom HaZikaron: A Time to Mourn

“…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…”  (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

Military service is mandatory for Jewish Israelis after high school, for both men and women.  Because of that, most Israelis have known at least somebody—a relative, a friend, a fellow student, a colleague, a neighbor—who has fallen in battle.

Since 1860, when Jewish settlers first moved outside the walls of Jerusalem, 23,320 Israelis have been killed in battles or attacks.  They are remembered by 16,760 bereaved families in Israel.

In the past year alone, 116 soldiers have died defending this tiny nation.

“Since the establishment of Israel, we have been forced to defend ourselves on too many an occasion.  This past year, tragically, was no different,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson told Jewish and Israel News.

“Some of the finest of our children, friends, and colleagues had to pay with their lives to secure that elementary right to national self-determination,” Hirschson continued.  “We grieve their loss deeply yet remain, always, resilient with a view to the future: building, innovating, creating, and confident that we will one day live in both peace and security.”

An Israeli woman grieves the loss of a loved one-Yom HaZikaron

An Israeli woman sits at the grave of a loved one on Yom HaZikaron, mourning the loss.

Operation Protective Edge and the Hamas Terrorist Tunnels

Last summer, Hamas, the ruling body of Gaza, shot thousands of rockets and missiles after digging countless terror tunnels into Israel—both tools for creating carnage in Israeli population centers.

The number of missiles and rockets being shot indiscriminately into Israel increased exponentially during what would become a 50-day war.  Israel entered Gaza to destroy the terror tunnels constructed by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups in Gaza to infiltrate Israel and conduct attacks against Israelis.

Since those tunnels had been constructed to facilitate easy kidnappings of Israeli soldiers and citizens, Israelis have been concerned that the underground network has continued to grow since the 2014 ceasefire.

Indeed, Hamas and other militants have shared footage that reveals the construction on the tunnels continues.  In addition, Hamas, as recently as last week, has called for kidnapping Israelis “wherever they are.”

“You are all a target for us and the resistance.  We will fight you until we finally get rid of you and take as many captives as possible to free our heroes [imprisoned terrorists],” said Hamas official Khalil al-Haya Thursday night.  (JP)

Al-Haya told his hundreds-large audience that kidnapped Israeli victims will be used to negotiate the freedom of Arabs that have been imprisoned in Israel for acts of terrorism—an evil spectrum of horrific bombings, attacks, murders and kidnappings.

Hamas abduction murder Naftali Fraenkel Gilad Shaer Eyal Yifrah

Israel mourns the abduction and murder of Naftali Frenkel (left), Gilad Shaer (middle), both 16, and Eyal Yifrah (right).  (IDF infographic)

Meanwhile, today, Israelis are also remembering civilian victims of terrorism, including the Jewish teens abducted and killed by Palestinians while on their way home from school last summer:  Gilad Shaer, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach.

On Wednesday, a supergroup of musical artists together with classmates in the Makor Haim high school yeshiva released a song memorializing the three teens.

The song, titled “Open Your Heart,” describes the months following their murder and the ordeal suffered by the families and the nation.

“Less than a year has passed since an entire nation held its breath, praying as one for the safe return [of the teens, who for several weeks were thought to have been kidnapped],” said David D’Or, who wrote the music for the song.

“I was graced with the honor of memorializing that sense of unity, the mass prayers and the blessed memory of the three boys,” he said.  (Times of Israel)

Among those listed was also Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the East Jerusalem teenager who was killed by extremist right-wing Jews in retaliation for the murder of the three teens.

Saying that it was a “great initiative to honor” his son, Khdeir’s father, however, asked that his son’s name be removed from the list.  He explained he was more interested in obtaining justice.

Now, fresh in our minds from only a week ago—on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day—37-year-old Khaled Koutineh from the town of Anata in Judea, rammed his car into a French Hill bus stop striking 26-year-old Shalom Yohai Cherki, son of a prominent rabbi in the francophone community, and 20-year-old Shira Klein.

Cherki, who succumbed to his wounds on Thursday, will be remembered today in Israel as one of the latest victims of terrorism.  Klein remains hospitalized with serious injuries.

Although Koutineh’s wife claimed the ramming was accidental, stating her husband was not concerned with politics, Israel Police chief Yohanan Danino issued a formal statement on Saturday after the investigation and Koutineh’s interrogation, calling the incident an attack.  (Ynet) 

Mohammed Abu Khdeir

Mohammed Abu Khdeir, East Jerusalem teen killed by right-wing Jews in a revenge attack.

The car assault was a chilling flashback to last year’s social-media campaign that pressed for car-ramming attacks against Israelis.  (Times of Israel)

Two “lone-wolf” terrorists, at least one affiliated with Hamas, adopted this method of attack, mowing over Israelis who were waiting to board the tram in Jerusalem or were walking in the general area.

City officials later erected concrete barriers at stations along the light-rail to protect pedestrians from further attacks.

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.  Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.”  (Psalm 37:7–8) 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara pay tribute to Israel's fallen soldiers at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, lighting a candle for Yonatan Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara pay tribute to the fallen at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem ahead of Yom HaZikaron, in order to avoid bothering bereaved families.  In the above photo, Netanyahu lights a memorial candle at the grave of his brother Yoni, who fell during the operation to free hostages on a hijacked Air France plane at Entebbe, Uganda in 1976.

The Rebirth of Israel: From Mourning to Dancing

“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with a garment of joy.”  (Psalm 30:11)

Today’s sunset will move the mourners of Zion into rejoicing, as Israel’s Memorial Day for victims of terrorism and the state’s fallen soldiers ends and the celebration of the supreme gift of Israel’s independence begins.

Israel’s Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut (Day of Independence) are bound together as a contemplation of the lives lost in conflict since the rebirth of Israel.  Sunset tonight marks the 67th birthday of the modern the State of Israel.

“To an outsider, the instantaneous annual shift from mourning to celebration appears almost manic-depressive,” the editor of The Jewish Week commented.

Pointing to Ecclesiastes, he said one might look at this transition as “a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

“The rabbis instruct that even when we are most joyful we pause to remember the sadness we have endured,” he reminded.

In true Ecclesiastes fashion, tonight at dusk, Israel will move to contagious rejoicing, marked by a full night of crowds dancing in the streets, celebrating with song, wearing and waving patriotic colors, and attending celebratory ceremonies or free, open-air concerts given by some of Israel’s greatest names in music.

Relevant movies, television shows and documentaries will be aired all day, while all age groups will rejoice openly in the streets;  even young children will be caught up in the festivities long past bedtime. 

rebirth of Israel as an independent nation

An Israeli child entertains her sibling with an Israeli flag.

Yom HaAtzmaut: A Holiday for Everyone

While Yom HaAtzmaut is an Israeli holiday, it is also celebrated by the Jewish community around the world.

In the USA, the Israeli-American Council (IAC) will hold five large festivals throughout the month of May.  (Ynet)

“The festivals, which are an important element of the IAC’s diverse activity around the U.S., will help recruit the Israeli-American and Jewish community for the pro-Israel activism that’s needed today, more than in the past, in light of the increase in anti-Semitism and attempts to delegitimize Israel around the U.S. and the entire world,” Israeli-American Council CEO Sagi Balasha said.

Israeli youth celebrate the rebirth of Israel as a nation.

Israeli youth celebrate Israel by waving the nation’s flag on Yom HaAtzmaut.

The Israeli-American Council expects more than 50,000 Israeli-Americans will participate in cities with significant Israeli populations—Miami on May 3, Las Vegas on May 10, Los Angeles on May 17, and New York and Boston on May 31. 

Also in Canada, an initiative spearheaded by the Jewish Agency, the United Jewish Appeal Federation and the Israeli Consulate, will underscore Toronto’s appreciation for Israel with an Israeli Speakers Night, today, April 22.

The Toronto Celebrates Israel initiative began in 2014 but unfolds this year into a platform for all the city’s Yom HaAtzmaut events that will be taking place today—at private homes, schools, synagogues and community centers.  (Canadian Jewish News)

Around the New Jersey–New York area, numerous tribute events for Israel are advertised this whole week, including synagogue family-fun days and singalongs, a harbor cruise for Israel, musical performances featuring such artists as Capa’im and The Maccabeats, and Jewish speakers and comedians sharing keen insights.   (NJ Jewish News)

The Israeli flag is held high in celebration of the rebirth of Israel,

The Israeli flag.

Each one of us can find ways to explore our local communities to find events that honor the lost ones of Israel as well as celebrate the state’s 67 years of independence.

And Israel’s 67th birthday is definitely worthy of a celebration.

Its rebirth in 1948 is nothing short of miraculous! Moreover, it is a testimony to the love and faithfulness of God.

In fact, the rebirth of Israel and its continuing strength and contributions to the world in the fields of medicine, technology and agriculture are the fulfillment of countless Bible prophecies.  They are concrete evidence that the Word of God is true.

“The remarkable reality of a sovereign Israel, only three years after the ovens of Auschwitz, and a united Jerusalem in which the Old City and Temple Mount fell under Jewish sovereignty for the first time since the Destruction in 70 CE, cannot be overstated,” writes South Africa-born Rabbi Doron Perez, head of the World Mizrachi Movement headquartered in Jerusalem—a spiritual center/religious movement that partners with the Zionist enterprise.

Although Israel is the only country in the world whose right to exist and defend itself is continuously challenged, and although Israelis continue to be murdered by terrorists just because they are Israeli, and although peace remains a dream, the miracle of the rebirth of the ancient Jewish homeland points to the soon fulfillment of Israel’s promised spiritual rebirth.

It also points to the return of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) and the setting up of His kingdom with His throne in Jerusalem.

“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land.  I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”  (Genesis 28:15)