There are a lot of holidays in Israel. Some are Jewish religious holidays with specific rituals, stories and foods. Others are national Israeli holidays. In the month that I’ve been in Israel so far, there has been quite a few:
- Pesach – I arrived in Israel for the last day of Pesach, also known as Passover, which matches Easter. Pesach is to commemorate when the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. It is said that when the pharaoh freed the Israelites, they were in such a hurry to leave that they could not wait for their bread dough to rise. Therefore, for the duration of Pesach, only a specific unleavened kind of bread (a wafer, really) called Matzo is sold and eaten in Israel.
- Yom HaShoah – also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day. A national day of mourning for the many Jewish victims of the Holocaust (Shoah in Hebrew). On the day, there is a big ceremony at the national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, and at 10 am, sirens ring out all across the country for two whole minutes. In those two minutes everything grinds to a halt, as all Israelis stop, stand up and quietly commemorate. I was in a bus going north from Jerusalem when the sirens rang, and the bus just came to a halt in the middle of the highway and everybody got up for a few minutes of silence.
- Yom Hazikaron – or with its full English title “Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day”. This is another national day of mourning with another 2 minute siren call for silence at 8 PM the evening before (because days begin at sunset according to the Jewish calendar). This remembrance day always takes place the day before the Israeli Independence Day to remind people of the price paid for independence (also, I guess it would be too much of a downer to have the happy day first followed by the sad day).
- Yom Ha’atzmaut – The Israeli Independence Day, which is a day off with lots of fun, good food, smiles and fireworks. I celebrated both of these days here in Neot Semadar, and even here, in a sort of hippie-ish kibbutz in the middle of the desert, both of these holidays were celebrated with great reverence and joy (respectively).
- Lag BaOmer – yet another holiday commemorating that some people died a long time ago. I didn’t quite get the story, but it was celebrated with a big bonfire and lots of falafel and watermelon.
- Shavuot – is not until next week, but it is a holiday that commemorates when God gave the Torah (the ten commandments) to Moses on Mount Sinai. Here, most people are excited about the prospect of getting to eat loads of locally-produced cheese.
So, lots of holidays. As an often-told Jewish joke goes, all Jewish holidays follow the same basic premise: “Somebody tried to kill us; they didn’t succeed; now let’s eat!”