Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut in the wake of Oct. 7


This year, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut will feel unlike any other year. Noam and Mijal address the days’ significance in the wake of Oct.7, highlighting the solemn transition from Yom HaZikaron to the joyfulness of Yom Ha’atzmaut. They share their personal experiences and reflect on how these holidays hold a deeper meaning this year amid the ongoing war in Gaza.

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Noam: Hey everyone, welcome to Wondering Jews with Mijal and Noam.

Mijal I’m Mijal.

Noam: And I’m Noam and this podcast is our way of trying to understand the Jewish world. We don’t have it all figured out. Well, I don’t, Mijal might. But we’re going to try to figure it out together.

An air display above the Tel Aviv beach on the occasion of the 61st Israeli Independence Day (Yom Haatzmaut), April 29, 2009. (Photo: Oren Pels/Wikipedia Commons)

Mijal: And I might, Noam, I might, just kidding. And our absolute favorite part is hearing from you. So please email us at And you can also call us. You can leave us voicemails at 833 WON-JEWS. And when you call, just say your name, give your number, your email address, and you can share any thoughts, questions, disagreements, anything under 30 seconds.

Noam: You know, Jews is not a bad word. It’s just if you use it not nicely, then it’s a bad word. So you guys can call us, 833-WON-JEWS. Mijal, you ready? I got a question from Laura. I love these questions. It’s such a funny question, but you have to answer it, like for real. Here’s the question. What is your last Netflix binge?

Mijal: Okay. So I’m being very honest here, not something I’m very proud of, it’s this show called, Love is Blind. And I don’t know if you know about it, and if you were expecting me to say that, Noam, but it’s a reality TV show, and the premise of it…

Noam: Well, I know you have an obsession with the Kardashians, so besides that. But you follow them on Instagram, TikTok. That’s the Mijal Bitton brand. Yeah, for sure, for sure.

Mijal: That’s all I do when I’m not talking to you, just look them up. And I obsessively. That’s what I do. That’s all I do. No, it’s okay. So the premise is this premise in which like people speed date, but they blind date, they don’t see each other. And then like you can suppose to form relationships, like, you know, based on getting to know each other. Anyways, my husband and I were joking when we heard about it that it’s like a very wholesome, beautiful premise. And then I watched it. And when I say I watched it, I watched like the first and the last episodes because I cheat like that when I binge shows.

Noam: Oh, interesting. That is really, I think we could look under the hood on that one. That’s an approach.

Mijal: I also double speed when I watch. The show though was terrible. I mean, it was hilarious. It started off like, oh my gosh, love. And then it just like, it got so cruel. You know what I mean? As it went by. Anyways, that was my very honest answer, Noam, very honest.

Noam: To be fair to the show, you watched the first and the last episode and watched it in 2X. I’m not sure that you got everything. Okay, okay, all right. Okay, fair enough.

Mijal: Noam, I think I got the vibe. I feel pretty confident that I got the vibe. Love is not blind. Love is cruel, according to that show, and makes a lot of money. That’s really what it is. Noam, what’s your last Netflix binge?

Noam: Right now we’re in the middle of the NBA playoffs, folks.

Mijal: Is that a show? No, that’s not a show.

Noam: But listen, I live on the East Coast and it’s 10 o ‘clock and the game started on the West Coast at 10 o ‘clock, it’s insane. So it’s so late every night and I have to get myself to go to sleep. So that’s what I’ve been watching. How’d I do on that?

Mijal: That’s not an honest answer. Show that you binged. Show that you binged. Quickly, Noam. We have to talk about important things.

Noam: Show that I’ve been um is Game of Thrones. I think that’s the right answer, Game of Thrones.

Mijal: You are very late to the game with Game of Thrones. That would have been a cool answer a couple of years ago.

Noam: Okay, cool. Okay, fair, but that’s true, but they’re coming back this summer.

Mijal: Why do you mind that coming back?

Noam: There’s a new sequel, prequel, whatever.

Mijal:  Oh, okay. All right. Very good.

Noam: Okay, anyway, what I wanna talk to you about today is something much, much more serious than this. And you know me, I love to make sure that we transition from silly to serious all the time. But the truth is that our topic today, Mijal, is something that the Jewish national collective does a great job of transitioning from one state of mind to the other. And that’s the story and the holidays of Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, the Memorial Day in Israel and the Day of Independence. Right? Going to this year, just give me your initial reaction.

We’ve been speaking about, since we’ve launched this podcast, Purim feels different this year, right? Passover feels different this year. And now, how could we not reflect on and wonder together about how Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day, Israel Memorial Day, which commemorates the loss of life of Israeli soldiers and those lost in the line of fire, those lost in terrorism, and then the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, which is the fifth of Iyyar, which is one of the Jewish months and has been in place since its first year, 1948.

Mijal: Noam, can you remind us what are the English dates this year?

Noam: So the English dates this year, Sunday night, May 12th to 13th is Yom Hazikaron. And the crazy thing is we transition, we’re mourning. Yom Hazikaron is all about mourning the loss of life and the sacrifices that have been made. And then it goes directly into Yom Haatzmaut, the Day of Independence, which is then Monday evening, May 13th, and Tuesday, May 14th. So how does it feel different to you this year?

Mijal: Yeah, I mean, I’ll just say straight out, I’m nervous about these days. I think I’m nervous because, how do I explain this, Noam? It feels like we are still in the middle of things that are happening and we’re being asked to create religious and communal ways to mark things that are ongoing.

So Yom HaZikaron, I mean, it’s always been like a day that has meant a lot to me and like it’s been important to me to mourn. And when I say important, I just I’ve always tried to be in like the right community to mourn, to honor those who’ve given up the ultimate sacrifice for Jews to have a nation state right now. And right now going into Yom HaZikaron, well, knowing that the numbers of those we are mourning has grown so much this year from all those soldiers who have been killed and also all the civilians who have been murdered by terrorists and knowing that we still have civilians in the hands of terrorists and that there’s more and more people in the army getting ready to risk their lives. There’s just so much there. And I’m really nervous about, I think Yom Hazikaron feels easier than Yom Haatzmaut, we can get into that, but I’m nervous about doing it right. Right, I mean, to really mourn and to honor while also being in the middle of it. Am I making sense?

Noam: It’s you’re making sense. But what I want to do, Mijal, is of course, and I want to get to the Yom HaZikaron versus Yom Haatzmaut distinction that you’re making. I want to say some numbers because I think this is helpful. 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the War of Independence, 6 ,373 died, nearly 1 % of the Israeli population. OK, 1956, the Suez Crisis, around 230 Israeli soldiers were killed. 1967 Six Day War, 776 Israeli soldiers were killed 1973 Yom Kippur war 2656 Israeli soldiers were killed. First Lebanon War 1982, 675 Israeli soldiers. The First Intifada, 160 Israelis were killed. The Second Intifada, more than a thousand Israelis were killed. 2006 Lebanon War, 121 Israeli soldiers and 44 civilians. Then you have all the Gaza conflicts, that’s 2008 2009 2012 2014, you have the victims of terror attacks from 1920 to the present which totals over 3860 Israelis. And I want to continue going here, and then the 7th of October, approximately 1200 Israelis were murdered, over 200 were taken hostage, over 250, 263 soldiers to be specific, have been killed in battle.

That’s a lot. It’s a lot to say. It’s a lot to say. And since the founding of the State of Israel, the whole purpose was that the Jewish state, or one of the many purposes was that the Jewish state should be a safe haven for Jewish people. But the irony of the safe haven for the Jewish people comes from an idea that I heard from Shmaryahu Guttman, I think he was like an Israeli educator, archaeologist. And in 1942, he spoke about what’s called the Masada Paradox. And in the Masada Paradox, he basically made the argument that in order for the Jewish people to continue to survive and thrive, they actually had to die. Meaning they had to, not that there had to be an ethos of martyrdom, but the paradox of Jewish survival is actually sacrifice.

Mijal: Well, okay, I have thoughts, but… So I think, we are commemorating Yom HaZikaron very soon after Yom HaShoah. And there is a very big difference in how Jews die throughout history. Yom HaShoah were basically exterminated, right? Persecuted. Yom HaZikaron, especially the soldiers who were killed, are people who stood up to fight.

Noam: Yes.

Mijal: And by the way, I won’t forget, I was privileged to hear Naftali Bennett speak soon after October 7th. And he said, one of the reasons October 7th was so horrifying is that it was pretty much a pogrom, right, in certain parts of the southern communities. And he said the promise of Zionism, you said safe haven, the promise of Zionism wasn’t so much that we wouldn’t die anymore. But that if we were to die, it would be that we are fighting back.

Noam: Right, yep.

Mijal: And there is a very big difference between us fighting and standing up, and God forbid, dying in battle, and between the pogroms. So in a sense, Yom HaZikaron, the price is so high, and it is so painful. And it also comes right before Yom Haatzmaut to remind us that it is different than Yom HaShoah and other tragedies in Jewish history, because it comes together with a story of Jewish sovereignty and Jewish power and Jewish self-defense.

Noam: Meaning the reality is that the only way to get to Yom Haatzmaut, to get to the declaring independence and to have that agency that we talk about is Yom Hazikaron.

Mijal: Yeah, but not only that, but it’s also a different type of sacrifice. It’s not when we speak about martyrs in like, let’s say medieval crusades who are basically killed. It’s a very different type of sacrifice than picking up a weapon and standing up and willingly going to defend your country.

Noam: Right, yeah, I agree. And so you and I live in the US and, listen, if you’re not in a Jewish day school, if you’re not part of a Jewish synagogue, if you’re not part of a Hebrew school, if you’re not deeply embedded in the Jewish community, I think that for a lot of people, it’s very hard to feel these holidays.

There aren’t formal rituals in the same way that there are for Passover, and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and being in the synagogue and in the same way. And it’s hard, it’s hard sometimes to feel Yom Hazikaron when you’re not in that surrounding culture. And I think about Yom Hazikaron in a way that you’re in Israel. One of the differences between Israeli Jewish experience and the American Jewish experience is that while there are similar numbers of total Jews in each place, if you are not observant, ritually observant in Israel, if you go outside on Yom Hazikaron, it’s a national holiday. You hear the sirens, you pause, you bring your car to the side, you know someone who has been through something, you know a family, a friend, maybe someone in your family who has sacrificed, and it feels different.

And for many years, I think that it’s been the case that Americans, young Jewish Americans, don’t necessarily feel Yom HaZikaron. And I want to read to you a quote that Rabbi Norman Lamm said in 1965. Norman Lamm was the Chancellor of Yeshiva University, the President of Yeshiva University. And in 1965, this is 17 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, he says, the greatest exile occurs when we do not know we are in exile. The more we forget our exile hood, the deeper we are caught in it. Is that true, Mijal?

Mijal: Why are you bringing this quote with what you just said about challenges commemorating Yom Hazikaron?

Noam: Well, because until this year, exactly what you were saying, I think it’s been very hard to kind of relate to Yom Hazikaron. It’s distant. It’s not ritualized. It’s not something that’s, you know, going on in my national consciousness. I think this year feels different. I think Yom Hazikaron this year feels more personal, maybe in the same ways that Passover felt more personal this year. Like it wasn’t hard to say, imagine what it would be like to free yourself from bondage. Like, yeah, we have Jewish people who are literally in bondage right now, basically in Egypt or near Egypt. It feels very real. So right now, Yom HaZikron feels very real.

Mijal: Yeah. Well, I will say like this, though. No, I’ll say two things. Number one, I agree with you that in the States you have to make an effort. And by the way, I would advise to anybody, look at different Jewish communities around you. There’s definitely ways to connect. And for me also, every year Yom HaZikaron, I have my playlist and I have videos that I’m watching. And like, like even if it takes extra work, I think it’s actually really critically important for each and every one of us to understand, there is a mood to this day. There is an obligation to do what we can to connect to the day. But then I’ll say, Noam, with the second thing, you made a point about how this year Yom Hazikaron is different. I think you’re right that for many people, Yom Hazikaron this year will feel more intense because we would have remembered all the pictures of the soldiers who have been killed and their stories and, you know, and that would feel very fresh. But I also think there’s probably a subset of our community that will struggle with it more this year. I’ll tell you why, because I think that at its core, Yom HaZikaron is about mourning our dead and our soldiers, but it is also tied to a commitment to Jewish power. We do not apologize for having an army.

And I do think there are some American Jews who struggle with that. I’m just naming that. They struggle with that.

Noam: Do you think they know they’re struggling with that?

Mijal: Well, I’ll say it like this, it’ll be easier for them to advocate for hostages, which I think we should all do, than to actually say that the IDF might commit mistakes, doesn’t mean it’s always perfect, but in general, it’s a force that’s trying to defend Jews from literally entire nations that will slaughter them if they could. So I think it’s gonna be an important and complicated idiom as we come around this year. And for those of us, and I’ll include myself and you too, Noam, there, who believe in the importance of Yom HaZikaron, who want to honor our fallen, who believe in the importance of the IDF, then I think we have to work extra hard to make this a day of mourning, a day in which we connect across the miles and divides, and a day in which we allow ourselves to grieve and to say there are all of these young people who gave up their lives so that we can have a Jewish state and we owe them so much.

Noam: I agree. And the other thing that I want, as you were talking, I was thinking about this, the, it’s not just those who sacrifice their lives. It’s also those who are wounded. And, and I want to say, I really want to say that. I know there’s not, that Yom Hazikaron is technically about those who lost their lives, but my cousin who, you know, went through 2014 and had half of his arm blown off in Tzuk Eitan in one of the battles against Hamas in Gaza.

He’s part of an organization and we could put these different organizations in the show notes. But there are organizations like Restart, where he works, that helps people be proactive and have productive life through tech and career. There are other organizations like Brothers For Life, No Soldier Left Behind, Invisible Album, where these soldiers who may not have lost their lives, but they’ve given and they’ve sacrificed so much I think that it’s such an opportunity for anyone who’s listening for you and me and for all of us to incorporate their stories into Yom HaZikaron also. Because they’re forgotten. They’re forgotten. And their sacrifice, that’s really what we’re commemorating, is forgotten.

And I agree with you. I agree with you about the Jewish power thing. I want to read to you a quote from a poem. It’s a poem called The Sermon by Chaim Hazaz in 1943. It’s a very strong idea. I’m going to read it to you and I want to get your thoughts. Here’s what he says. You ready? It’s really powerful.

He says, I want to state that I am opposed to Jewish history. We didn’t make our own history. The non-Jews, the goyim as he says it, made it for us. What is there in it? Oppression, defamation, persecution, martyrdom. I would simply forbid teaching our children Jewish history. Why the devil teach them about their ancestors’ shame? I would just say to them, boys, from the day we were exiled from our land, we’ve been a people without a history. Class dismissed. Go out and play soccer.

Mijal: It’s very powerful. I didn’t know the poem before. Yeah, I mean, just going into Yom Hashoah and then Yom Hazikaron, Yom Haatzmaut, I understand. I understand what he’s saying. And by the way, I think it helps us approach Yom Zikaron differently and we understand it in light of Jewish history, exactly what you were saying, that we are not going, yeah.

Yeah, yeah, I’m not sure I agree with everything time has on says and there’s the whole concept of the lachrymose conception of Jewish history that Jewish history wasn’t meaning that what that means to speak English was that it’s not just from a Jewish historian named Salah Baran who used that term.

Mijal: Lachrymose, by the way, in Spanish, tears are lagrimas. So lacrimos is like the teary.

Noam: Ooh. Right, so and his argument is Jewish history wasn’t just, you know, they tried to kill us, we survived. They tried to kill us, we survived. There’s a positive element to Jewish history as well. And I deeply understand that. But I was more reflecting on what you said where you really helped me understand Yom HaZikaron, which is, it’s not the same thing as Yom HaShoah. And I really want to be clear. I’m not trying to belittle. There was a lot of resilience and a lot of resistance that took place from the Jewish people against the Nazis and their collaborators in the Holocaust. But there’s a very different reality and very different experience when you’re fighting for your country that exists and will continue to exist as a result of your fighting. That’s different.

Mijal: Yeah, by the way, I’m in the middle right now of reading a really, really good book called Palestine 1936. And it describes a lot of events that happened in the Yishuv and in Mandatory Palestine at that time. And you read there, for example, about all of this young Jews from around the world who are escaping antisemitism and coming to Palestine. And they are, you use the word before safe haven, they know they are coming to a place with a lot of risk.

They know they are coming to a place with a lot of attacks, they’re going to have to pick up arms. They are not coming because they believe they will be safe. They are coming because they believe they have a chance to rewrite Jewish history. And that’s very different. That’s very different. It’s a totally different experience and it’s a different ethos.

Noam: I’m so happy you mentioned Palestine 1936. Mijal, I’m offended because we just did a three-part series on Unpacking Israeli History about the three-year period from 1936 to 1939, okay? In which Oren Kessler was on the podcast, the author of the book, and he was awesome on the podcast.

Mijal: I’m behind on my podcast listening now, I’m sorry.

Noam: But I’m happy. Shout out to Oren Kessler. But also listen to that three part series on 36 and 39, which I do make the argument, together with Oren Kessler and people like Rabbi Shlomo Brody, that it was amongst the most three important years in modern Jewish history and certainly in the creation of the state of Israel.

Mijal: Yeah. No, I want to just say one more thing about Yom HaZikaron, you know what you said about focusing on wounded soldiers and maybe donating, supporting organizations. I just want to say even especially this year when there’s so much turmoil, when Jews and Zionists and the IDF are demonized, I just want to encourage everybody to find time to emotionally mourn. So Yom HaZikaron, it shouldn’t be just a day of intellectualizing what does this mean. You know what I mean? It should be a day to just mourn.

Noam: How do we mourn? Mijal, how do you mourn? What does it mean to grieve in Judaism though? Meaning we typically have texts to help us do that. How do we do that for this?

Mijal: I mean, it’s a little bit different from everybody. I mentioned two things before. Number one, look at Jewish organizations around you, find one that resonates and try to go to a communal gathering. If you’re in Lower Manhattan, you’re welcome to come to us. Number two, but like there’s so much out there. There’s music and songs. Or I’ll give you an example. Like there’s been a lot of friends of young men and women who were killed on and after October 7th who’ve created like Instagram pages remembering them. So I’ll give you one example. I follow, there’s this young man, Shaul Greenglick, who was killed in the fight in Gaza, and he was an amazing singer. And I have just been listening to songs that he sang, that his friends put up.

Noam: That’s beautiful.

Mijal: And I’ll put the Instagram page in the show notes, but it just gives you a sense of the vitality. The beauty, like, you know, there’s like all of these young people whose life was cut short.

Noam: I love it. I love that idea.

Mijal: Life was cast short way too early and we need to mourn and honor their sacrifice. Think about them, think about their families and make sure that we are living lives that… Sorry, I’m getting a bit emotional now. But make sure that as we go around, there’s so much noise around us here in America and campus protests and this and that and all that noise can sometimes hide the fact that there’s a lot of people who have given up their lives whether, died or you know are wounded and that we owe everything to them. And I really think that especially this Yom HaZikaron, we have to, if it comes naturally, great. If it doesn’t, we have to actually invest in making sure that it’s a day in which we bring ourselves to grieve because we need to grieve for everything that we have lost for the beautiful gift that is to live at a time in which Jewish history has changed.

Noam: I agree, very powerful, Mijal. And this is the paradoxical nature of these holidays that don’t just sit near each other, they sit one after the other. So the total number of people, Israelis, not just Jews, Israelis who have been killed or who have fallen, 24,000 soldiers, 4,000 victims of terrorist attacks. And that’s what we’re commemorating on this day. And then we go directly into, you know, from the tears that you just had to the smile, to jubilation, unfiltered, nonstop celebration and love. And when I’m trying to always teach, people about, what I’m always trying to teach people about, you know, celebration and exploration, the need to wrestle with Israel, struggle with Israel, all of those things, it’s true.

But we also need to have days and times where it’s just celebration. And this year to me feels different in that if we celebrated a little bit last year, we celebrate 3X, 5X, 10X. We go so much harder than we ever have with regard to Yom Haatzmaut. Because this is what some people are saying, that there’s been multiple Israel Independence Days. Number one was 1948, and that’s the original Israel Independence Day. Some people say, 67, when Israel actually got the historic ancestral places like Jerusalem, that was the second Independence Day. But I heard recently that the 7th of October was another day that this becomes Israel’s Independence Day. Another reminder that we have to live in such a way that we are declaring our independence, that we are declaring our agency and that we are subject in history and that Chaim Hazaz’s poem is not, is fully accurate and whether or not Jewish people die as a result or Israelis sacrifice for all of this, well, now this Jewish state exists. Now we have this and we celebrate.

Mijal: So I think it was one of the people who said what you just mentioned that we are in a second moment of independence is Micha Goodman, philosopher and public intellectual in Israel. I will say, Noam, that maybe in this place I’m a little bit in a different place than you. And I don’t mean like I’m not making an intellectual and ideological statement here. I’m talking about an emotional mood. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to celebrate three times or five times as hard this year.

I feel like my celebration is going to be very much intertwined with a somber mood of what it means to celebrate Israel’s independence while feeling like Israel has been more imperiled this year than any other year of my life, while knowing that we have hostages in Gaza, reservists who should be home who are not home, evacuees still who have left their home. So I think that there’s something here actually for me that we need to, I will celebrate and it’s important for me to celebrate almost as like a mitzvah, mitzvah is like a commandment, even if it doesn’t fully feel like it, I’m gonna do it because I am grateful and joyous and I wanna make sure that we honor again the sacrifice of the day before by celebrating the gift that we have.

But I do think we need to have almost like a somber orientation. I think what Micha Goodman and others have said when they talk about this as another moment of independence has to do with responsibility. Like the founders had responsibility. Yes, they rejoiced, but they understood they were writing Jewish history. They understood they were providing a refuge to the horrors of Europe and also what’s happening in the Middle East and North Africa. They understood that they had to figure out how to create a state.

And we need to figure out how to celebrate. And especially in America, this celebration needs to be tempered with responsibility. We are in uncertain waters. So much of our illusion has gone away. So much of being a Zionist right now is being demonized all across the world. And I do think that this has to be a celebration in which we draw strength for the fight ahead. And we also make sure to figure out how to draw a sense of responsibility for us to carry on this fight, to again fight again for our people, and what we stand for.

Noam: I agree with you. And I think that because of that, we have this very real opportunity this year.

Mijal: Responsibility, I would add, Noam. Responsibility.

Noam: You’re right. Responsibility. It is a responsibility. And, you know, one of the challenges you mentioned, Micha Goodman, I’ll say another idea from him that sometimes the paradox of being moderate is that sometimes moderates have too much of a moderate amount of energy. And what moderates need is to have an immoderate amount of energy for their big ideas. This year, what’s happening on college campuses is extremists have gone crazy. We need thoughtful moderates out there to celebrate now. Get out there. Wave that flag. Sing those songs. Play Hanan Ben-Ari. Listen to Omer Adam. Enjoy the music of Israel. Enjoy the Israeli culture that’s emerged. Enjoy it. Be part of it. And I really hope that that’s something that we could do this year and we could spend the day celebrating.

Mijal: But Noam, let me just say, I think what you’re saying is so important. I know with me and my kids, it’s going to, we bake a cake for Israel’s birthday for Yom Haatzmaut. So there’s things that we can do even living in the States and even in this complicated moment to make sure that we make space for those emotions for the mourning and then for the celebration.

Noam: Amen. And let me just finish with this idea from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, he’s a rabbi in Israel. He used to be a pulpit rabbi in New York City. He said this idea, I think right around the beginning of the second Intifada. He said, if Israel is your Disneyland, then come only when the sun is shining. But if Israel is your motherland, then come when your mother needs you the most.

Well, I think that this year’s celebration is something that Israel needs the most, and I really do hope, Mijal, that we all let our hair down, we celebrate, we go nuts, we have a great time, we feel great about it, and we feel gratitude to the Jewish people, to the state of Israel, with all of its foibles, with all of its imperfections, okay, yes, and we go nuts, we go crazy, we enjoy it, and for those who feel it, gratitude to God as well.

Mijal: Beautiful. All right, thank you, and we’ll speak soon.

Yeah, absolutely.

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