Tikvatenu event aims to build cultural bridges

  • Yom Hashoah | Holocaust Remembrance Day (evening of May 5-6)
  • Yom HaZikaron | Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism (evening of May 12-13)
  • Yom Ha’atzmaut | Independence Day (evening of May 13-14)

Collectively called Yamim | Days, each year the trio of special days noted above works together to reflect the Jewish and Israeli experience. They bring communities together to honor, remember, and celebrate, and allow people around the world to connect with Israel. 

“Here at The J we believe in the power of coming together as one big mishpacha, or family,” says Tzlil McDonald, director of Jewish life. “And in observing these days we’re not just building connections — we’re using the vibrant tapestry of Israeli culture to build bridges between Birmingham and the Israeli people.” 

It’s a classic example of the Jewish value of edah, or working to better understand each other by sharing cultures.

Yom Hashoah

The first of the three days, Yom Hashoah, “holds great meaning for Jews worldwide,” says the My Jewish Learning website. The day calls on everyone to remember the “unfathomable notion of six million deaths” of the Jews who perished during the Holocaust that was perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II. “The overwhelming theme… is the importance of remembering — recalling the victims of this catastrophe, and ensuring that such a tragedy never happens again.”

Watch this video of Israeli highway traffic coming to a halt in observance of Yom Hashoah. “Since the early 1960s, the sound of a siren on Yom Hashoah stops traffic and pedestrians throughout the State of Israel for two minutes of silent devotion,” writes My Jewish Learning. “The siren blows at sundown as the holiday begins and once again at 11 a.m. the following morning.”

Yom Hazikaron

The numerous conflicts since the nation’s founding along with compulsory military service for most Israeli citizens means that nearly everyone in the country knows a fallen soldier or victim of terrorism. As Leah Garber, senior vice president of Israel engagement at JCC Assocation writes, on Yom Hazikaron “Our entire nation will stand silent and bow its head in deep gratitude. We stand united in grief, remembering our sons and daughters who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our home of Israel.”

Making ‘the switch’

The trio of days ends with the celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut — a joyous celebration of Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence by David Ben Gurion, the primary founder of the nation and its first prime minister.

The stark contrast between the solemnity of Yom Hazikaron the day before and the joyous celebration of Independence Day has been dubbed “the switch.”

“Joining these two days together conveys a simple message: Israelis owe the independence and the very existence of the Jewish state to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for it,” writes Stephanie Goldfarb in Hillel International

“The Israeli flag is raised from half staff (due to Memorial Day) to the top of the pole,” Goldfarb continues, “indicating the succession of Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut, and 12 torches are lit to symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel. For many, ‘the switch’ embodies the dichotomy of the national Israeli spirit, finding ways of embracing and celebrating life even amid tragedy and loss.” 

Special significance here at The J

After having observed Yom Hashoah last week, the Levite Jewish Community Center along with The Birmingham Jewish Federation will present a combined observance of Yom HaZikaron and celebration of the 76th Yom Ha’atzmaut on May 13 and 14 (note that reservations are required to attend; see links below).

We are calling the event “Tikvatenu: From Heartbreak to Hope.”

This year’s Yamim are especially significant in the wake of the war that started in Israel on October 7 — a war that has irrevocably changed the lives of Israelis and Jews around the world and created a new reality. 

The Tikvatenu program will begin Monday at noon with a special focus on remembering the victims of October 7. Special guest Alon Koren will then speak about his family’s experience during the October 7 attack on Kibbutz Kfar Aza, located in southern Israel just two miles from the Gaza border. 

And then making the switch to Tuesday’s celebratory program will center around a cultural fair that will provide opportunities for attendees to learn about Israel, its people, and their traditions and lifestyles. Guests will enjoy an immersive experience of the tastes and aromas of Jerusalem through specially curated market tables.

The evening will also feature “Box From Jerusalem,” a program crafted by Jerusalem residents Chen and Alon Koren. The couple uses Box to convey the vibrancy of the well-known Mahane Yehuda shuk | market through authentic foods combined with their personal stories.

About the grant

The grant behind Tikvatenu is part of the Mit-habrim | Connections funding partnership between JCC Association of North America and Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism. The fund supports local initiatives that build and strengthen connections between Israel and North America’s JCCs. 

Originally created to help JCC communities celebrate Israel’s 75th anniversary last year, the horrific events of October 7 prompted an expansion of the fund’s focus to include components that express solidarity with Israel and a commitment to Jewish peoplehood. 

To date, the Mit-habrim partnership has supported 180 activities in 112 JCCs.

Learn more about these and other Jewish holidays.

The Tikvatenu program is proudly supported by the Israel Engagement Fund: JCC Association of North America Program Accelerator and the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, and the Birmingham Jewish Federation.