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Did you forget to call us on our special day? (Please call!)


It’s not too late, in case you were thinking of picking up the phone.  You’ve still got a few more days.

What?  You weren’t??  Why not???

If you’d normally call someone on their birthday or anniversary, why not call all your Israeli friends and family on Yom HaAtzmaut and/or Yom Yerushalayim?

Go on, pick up the phone.  It’s easy, cheaper than ever; it only takes a few minutes, and means so, so much.

Usually when I speak to family back home in Canada around these special events, which always fall between Pesach and Shavuos, and I mention a holiday, they usually say something like, “Oh, yeah… it’s, um, is it Lag Baomer?”  (Which, to be fair, it sometimes is and sometimes isn’t.)

And they’re absolutely right to be ignorant about what’s going on here.  You really don’t feel Yom HaAtzmaut or Yom Yerushalayim outside of Israel unless you’re immersed in a tremendously Zionist context where people are going to extremes to deck the halls.  That “Oh, yeah,” reaction – well, I don’t blame them.  If you’re just going about your life, it’s a little much to expect you to remember a minor, modern holiday in a country far away.

And yet… every year, I wake up on March 1st knowing it’s my sister’s birthday.  There’s no sign of it in the weather, in the air, posters on the walls, sales in the malls, or fireworks anywhere I go.  (I picked this sister deliberately, and not my mother, who was born on Bastille Day, the French national holiday, or my other sister, who was born on Valentine’s Day…)

And because it’s my sister’s birthday, I think about her, plan a gift (okay, I don’t always get around to sending one – I’m not the BEST sister!), send her some kind of e-greeting, make a phone call.  I sort of think about her all day, and the amazing things she does that I never could.  It’s her special day.


(See?  Very special!)

Now, you’ll probably admit that we’re not limited to ONE special day per year per person.  People also phone loved ones on their anniversaries, Mother’s Day, graduations, and other special occasions, so this isn’t limited to birthdays at all.

So why not extend the love to include, oh, an Independence Day (or two)?

If your family includes Israelis, why NOT call them to wish them a “happy birthday” on Yom HaAtzmaut???  You should.  And then again, a few weeks later, on Yom Yerushalayim.  It’s our country’s birthday, and a time of year when the entire nation is celebrating.  A phone call seems like the right thing to do.

In case you have no idea what these holidays even are, here’s a quick glossary.  Ignorance is no excuse!


In case you’re not Israeli, or have no clue what I’m talking about, here’s a basic rundown of the special Israeli days that fall between Pesach and Shavuos:

  • Yom HaShoah = יום השואה = Holocaust Memorial Day, sometimes known as Holocaust and Heroes Day (Yom HaShoah ve’haGevurah).  Commemorates the 6 million Jews lost during the Shoah with ceremonies nationwide and a 1-minute siren in the morning.
  • Yom HaZikaron = יום הזיכרון = Memorial Day – commemorating those lost in Israel’s armed forces as well as in terrorist attacks; always observed the day before Yom HaAtzmaut, with ceremonies and two sirens nationwide, one for 1 minute at night and one for 2 minutes in the morning, when everything comes to a half.
  • Yom HaAtzmaut = יום העצמאות = Independence Day – the birth of the modern State of Israel by Declaration of Independence on the 5th of Iyar, 5708 (May 14, 1948)
  • Lag BaOmer = ל”ג בעומר = the 33rd day of the Omer counting, which begins the 2nd day of Pesach.  It’s celebrated by Jews worldwide, but it’s REALLY celebrated here best.
  • Yom Yerushalayim = יום ירושלים = Jerusalem Day – sometimes known as Reunification of Jerusalem Day, commemorates the return of the Old City of Jerusalem to Jewish / Israeli control, taking it by force from Jordan in June of 1967 as part of the Six-Day War.  In 1980, the reunified city of Jerusalem officially became the capital of Israel.

It’s bizarre to think that my family isn’t sitting over in Canada during these few weeks of festivities imagining Israel at its finest:  all decked out in blue and white (except for my hometown of Haifa, which according to this article, slipped a little in its blue-and-white duties this year), singing, dancing, weeping over the Shoah and fallen soldiers and civilians, setting off fireworks, kids running around crazily, buzzed on sugar, making memories they’ll never forget.

My mother asked me the other day, “Do they have fireworks in Israel?”  I assumed before we made aliyah that they wouldn’t.  I figured they would be too traumatic for people scarred by nearly 70 years of war.  But no.  Perversely, perhaps, Israelis adore fireworks.  Arabs set them off at all their weddings, and Jews light them every chance we get as well. 


(Fireworks Photo © Government Press Office)

So the answer is: fireworks, yes – of course.  It wouldn’t be Yom HaAtzmaut without them.  Our little neighbourhood puts on a beautiful show every year with not one but TWO fireworks episodes:  first, they wait until it’s completely dark, then start the children’s entertainment, then do the first set of fireworks, then have musical entertainment, and then it’s time for round two of the fireworks.

And because our little neighbourhood is one of six in the nearby area, when it’s not our turn for fireworks, you can still see and hear them coming from all the other neighbourhoods all around.

It’s also very rare in Israel to get a day off work which isn’t a chag, when you don’t have to set the lights on timers and be careful about cooking and avoid using the phone and computers.  So for most religious Israelis, Yom HaAtzmaut is a day that feels almost like… a Sunday.  A day when you sleep in after a night of festivities.  A day when you get together with family and barbecue.  A day when you think about people you love and want to be with.

A great day, in other words, to get a special phone call from overseas.

I know it’s probably a hassle – looking the date up ahead of time, marking the calendar, figuring out the time difference.  And if you’re not in Israel, it’s probably a work day at your end, however much it feels like a Sunday here.  (If Yom HaAtzmaut does ever fall on a Sunday, it gets pushed off to the following day, meaning it will NEVER be on an actual Sunday.)

But whatever happens to Israel and Jerusalem in the future (may they live long and prosper!), I really believe that future generations will still be talking about the miracles of Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim.  “A great miracle happened here/there,” they’ll whisper in awe, and they’ll be right, of course.


(photo © Djampa via Wikimedia)

Great miracles happened here indeed:  69 years ago, 50 years ago.  They’re happening still, every day we walk the streets of this country. 

Don’t leave us to celebrate our special day all alone.  These aren’t just our miracles, after all; they belong to the entire Jewish people, and to the world.  If you can’t be here to celebrate, at least make a phone call to wish us the most wonderfully blessed day there is.

(50th birthday cake photo credit © Jlhopgood via Flickr)

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


  1. Was your mind on the Israeli holidays when you were in Canada?

    1. Yes, absolutely. Not all the time, but often enough, especially when the kids were little. I would drive around Toronto with an Israeli flag hanging out my window; any excuse to interrupt sefirah and listen to music sounds good to me. And we definitely did our share of bonfires, Walk with Israel events, etc.
      But then, I was religious and had little kids; if I wasn't or didn't, I don't know whether I would have noticed as much.


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