Commemoration and Celebration

Blog image - Commemoration and Celebration
As my friends and I are approaching the end of our Muss journey, we have had so many opportunities to immerse ourselves in Israeli culture and society. I’ve been to Israel before but have never experienced being here for Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. These two days included some of the most meaningful experiences I've had during my time here.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Yom HaZikaron. After going through Yom HaShoah in Israel the week before, I mentally prepared myself for a similar day, with a siren, where people all over Israel stop and take a minute to honor the Jewish lives that were lost. In America, Yom HaShoah has always been a bigger deal. The night Yom HaZikaron began, we were taken to an English ceremony in Latrun. The ceremony was beautiful and extremely emotional. We stood for the siren and I looked around as thousands of other Jews around me stood as well. It’s so beautiful how remembrance is so emphasized every day in Israel, but especially on Yom HaZikaron. This year, more than ever before, Yom HaZikaron was extremely hard for so many, but there was some comfort in the unity. The feeling of an entire nation mourning together was very powerful. We mourn the victims of terror, who were killed because the Jews have a state. We mourn the brave soldiers who fell defending this state.

As we listened to interviews of families of soldiers who fell in battle, I thought about how these stories are a reality for so many people in Israel, and how I've been pretty sheltered from that my entire life. It really hit me hard hearing the specific stories of real people from all over the world who came to fight in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and lost their lives so other Jews like me could live. May the memory of all who have fallen be a blessing.

On the day of Yom HaZikaron, we had a ceremony with our teachers in the morning. We were given an assignment where we split off into groups and researched the “A Face. A Memory. A Day” project. The website features 45 short animated films that commemorate fallen IDF soldiers and those who lost their lives in terrorist attacks. Each group chose a video to watch and researched the person that was depicted. My group chose the story of Daniel Pomerantz. After watching the videos that each group presented, I noticed how each art style was so different, and how much thought was put into each video. The website was so beautiful and the assignment was such a meaningful start to the day. We also watched a documentary about the Michael Levin, a lone soldier and Muss alumni who made aliyah from America and fell fighting for the country he loved. His story really hit me hard, hearing from his friends and family about what an amazing, courageous young man he was.

Later in the day, our counselors gathered us in the common room and we had an activity in our dorms. On the first floor, we were taken to a room to watch a video about Netta Epstein, a man who lived with his fiancé in Kibbutz Kfar Aza. On October 7th, he was murdered by Hamas when he jumped on a grenade to save his fiancé’s life. In the video, she talked about how hard it is to live without him. When she said, “He died so I could live, so I must live,” it hit me again, how so many families in Israel have to deal with their loved ones risking- and some losing- their lives so other Jews can thrive.

After going upstairs and hearing a few more stories, as well as reading about Israelis who died on October 7th at the Nova festival,  I thought about how we have mifkad every morning, and how our teachers share the names of any new soldiers who fell in battle. Most days there are at least two names, which is so so sad to me. I always paid my respects with the Mourners' Kaddish and HaTikvah, but I never took the time to think much deeper into it. As we were hearing and reading these stories from the families' point of view, as well as seeing the people’s faces and learning about their interests, I saw these people from an entirely new perspective, and felt more connected than ever.

Aside from all of the extremely emotional and sad feelings that this day brought for me, I also felt extremely grateful. You may ask: how can you be grateful at this time, in the wake of October 7th? The answer to that is: Because I know that today, the Jewish people have the power to fight back and defend themselves, which was not always the case. Jews have gone through so much, so on this Yom HaZikaron, I felt especially grateful for how blessed we are to live in a time where Israel thrives as a powerful and proud nation. Am Yisrael Chai.

That night was the beginning of Yom Ha’atzmaut, which is Israel’s national Independence Day.  We got ready and headed to a party in Raanana. The entire mood of the day completely switched to celebration, which felt a little bit off to me. I quickly understood the relevance of spending the previous day commemorating the brave soldiers who risk their lives every day to fight for this country. Without those soldiers, there would be no Jewish state to celebrate. It’s necessary to pay respect to the lives lost before you can celebrate the world they fought to leave behind. All this preparation made the celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut even more special.

Overall, Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut were both very powerful days in my experience in Israel. I learned so much that I will take with me going forward in my life. I hope to return to Israel in the future and spend many more holidays here, but no matter what, the way I spent Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut during my time at Muss is something that I will never forget.


Noa is a sophomore from Washington who joined AMHSI's 2024 Spring Semester program.