What to watch and listen to for Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut

Check out these videos, podcasts and films in honor of Israel's Memorial Day and Independence Day.
Fireworks light up the sky above Tel Aviv's City Hall, lit up for last year's Yom Ha'atzmaut celebration on April 14, 2021, in honor of Israel's 73rd year of independence. (Photo: UJA Federation of New York on Twitter)

Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut (Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day) are not just for Israelis, but are celebrated by Jewish communities around the world. Are YOU (yes we’re talking to you) going to commemorate and celebrate these days this year?

As we often say at Unpacked, learning about Israel involves both celebrating its achievements and exploring some of the unsavory and challenging aspects of Israeli history.

What do we mean by this? There are times when we ought to simply appreciate the miracle that a Jewish state exists and everything Israel has accomplished in 74 years. We ought to appreciate that Israel is the realization of a 2,000-year dream.

And here at Unpacked, we also explore the complex issues of Israeli history and current events in an intellectually honest way. As any reader of “This Week Unpacked,” viewer of our YouTube channel or listener of our podcasts knows, we do not gloss over the challenging parts of the story — we’re committed to unpacking each topic with nuance, complexity and multiple perspectives.

The reason we do this is simple: We think that celebrating both the sublime and romantic aspects of Israeli history as well as exploring the more challenging aspects is the best approach to telling the complicated stories of Israel. We CAN walk and chew gum at the same time.

Yom Haatzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) is traditionally a time for celebrating Israel, and Yom Hazikaron is when we remember Israel’s fallen soldiers, as well as victims of terror attacks. Read more about the meaning of these days below — plus, check out these videos, podcasts and films we recommend in honor of the holidays.

What is Yom Hazikaron and why does it matter?

Israel has fought six wars with neighboring Arab countries, confronted two Palestinian intifadas, and endured numerous terror attacks since its establishment in 1948, including repeated terror attacks in recent weeks that have left 15 dead. 

In this reality, to defend the Jewish state against these prolonged threats, the majority of Israelis serve in the army. However, this comes with an enormous price. This Yom Hazikaron, Israel remembers 23,928 fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks. Additionally, more than 36,000 Israelis have been physically wounded during their military service. Read more about Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and why it matters.

What is Yom Haatzmaut and why does it matter?

Immediately after Yom Hazikaron ends, Yom Haatzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) begins. Typically, in other countries, the Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and the Independence Day occur on two separate days of the year. So why is it that, in Israel, Independence Day begins the moment that Memorial Day ends?

“The State of Israel wouldn’t be able to celebrate its existence if it weren’t for those who gave their lives for it,” the IDF explains. “We wouldn’t be able to have one of those days without the other one. We honor their memory and everything they fought for, so that today, we can celebrate our independence.” Read more about Yom Haatzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) and why it matters.

What to watch and listen to for the holidays

In honor of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, check out the following videos, podcasts and films from Unpacked:

Videos:

“Why I am a Zionist” — Watch this video of Professor Gil Troy’s essay from 20 years ago, “Why I am a Zionist,” revisited and updated for today. What do you think about his vision of Zionism? Do you identify as a Zionist and what does the term mean to you?

“How Israel reshaped Jewish culture” — Many Americans define their Judaism culturally rather than religiously. But with different versions of “Jewish culture” in Israel and the U.S., what does the term even mean? This video explores whether there is such a thing as Jewish culture and how the Israeli and American versions developed in parallel to each other.

“Who are Israelis, really?” — One of the most common misconceptions about Israel is that it’s made up of white, European Jews. But in reality, the majority of Israel’s Jewish population is non-Ashkenazi (including Sephardic, Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews) and 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs. Watch this video to see the culturally diverse faces of Israel.

“Is there a truly Israeli food?” — Hummus, falafel, shawarma and shakshuka…Israeli food may be delicious, but it is a lot more interesting than that. This video explores the diverse origins of Israeli food, whether any food is authentically “Israeli,” and what this says about Israeli culture.

“HaLamed Heh: The 35 soldiers who never returned home” — During Israel’s War of Independence, under cover of night, 35 young Jewish men set out to deliver supplies to the people in the cut-off Etzion Bloc, south of Jerusalem. Tragically, they were discovered en route and massacred by local Arab villagers. For Yom Hazikaron, watch this video to hear the dramatic story of the “Lamed Heh,” the convoy of 35.

Podcasts:

Have you listened to our popular podcast, “Unpacking Israel History”? Join Dr. Noam Weissman as he goes behind the scenes of Israeli history and dives deep into the wild, fascinating and complicated stories of Israel. Each episode tells a nuanced story so you can hear multiple points of view.


For Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, we recommend the episodes on the Mossad, Hatikvah and the Hebrew language. Plus, be sure to check out Season 3 of “Unpacking Israeli History”!

Films:

Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front — What is it like to grow up in Israel and serve as an elite paratrooper in the IDF? Watch this powerful coming-of-age story, highlighting five young Israeli high school graduates who are drafted into the army. The film follows the soldiers from their basic training until their release into the home front, revealing the human side of Israel’s military.

When the Smoke Clears: A Story of Brotherhood, Resilience and Hope — Watch the inspiring stories of three young Israeli war veterans whose battle experiences leave them with life-altering mental and physical wounds. When all seems lost, a revolutionary idea gives them the hope, courage and community to survive. Working together, they learn to face their obstacles and discover that they might have more to offer than ever before.

Hummus! The Movie— Secret recipes, a Guinness World Record and the power of hummus to bring Muslims, Christians and Jews together…Beyond arguments over who makes the best hummus and even beyond religious and political divides, this feel-good film showcases the personal stories of the colorful men and women who simply live their lives and love their hummus.