Days of Remembrance, Awe and Calamity

For at least two institutions, the days between Passover and Independence Day are one long period of mourning and remembrance: the education system and the printed press. Older people, on the other hand, experience the remembrance days on their own. For many of them, the experience essentially consists of standing at attention when the siren goes off and listening to sad music on the radio.

This coming Sunday, the Batei Midrash network will be running learning centers in 20 venues around the country. At the centers, hundreds of people are expected to attend discussions focused on resolving Israel's social problems. This is part of an effort to establish the period prior to Independence Day as national Days of Awe (the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) and to take observance out of the ghetto of the education system and bring it to the Israeli public at large.

The Batei Midrash network is comprised of 11 pluralistic batei midrash for the study of Judaism. Around six months ago, during the Days of Awe, the network organized study days all over the country on the disengagement. Sunday's study sessions will be devoted to social issues, including subjects such as foreign laborers, contract workers, immigration, emigration and others. The participants will include Yaakov Achimeir, Haim Be'er, Prof. Avi Ravitzky, Sami Michael. The project is being run with the support of the New Israel Fund.

The goal is to establish the study days at these two times of the year - the Days of Awe and the period between the spring remembrance holidays - as two times for soul searching. The director general of the Elul Beit Midrash, Roni Yavin, says they hope the spring study days become a kind of "giant campfire gathering with discussion on questions such as why are we here, what justifies our existence, is the cost worth it, and is it possible to do things differently?"

Is it really possible to establish a national period of soul searching? The Reform movement's attempt seems to indicate that it is not easy. Meir Azeri, the rabbi of the Reform congregation Beit Daniel, says that in the past all Reform congregations viewed this springtime period as "the week of revival." The Sabbath prior to Independence Day was granted a special status as "the Sabbath of Revival" with a special prayer, and all events took on an element of national soul searching. But over the years, the practice gradually died out.

The Elul Beit Midrash is now writing a tractate for Independence Day. Dozens of Haggadahs and tractates for Independence Day have been written and published in the past. The most famous was written by the author Aharon Megged. None really caught on, perhaps because after Passover no one has the strength for another family gathering. Perhaps because the real festive family meal takes place the next day alongside the grill, and reading a tractate isn't really appropriate there.

What was prevented

The scenario was averted right at the last minute. It happened shortly before 10 A.M. on Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was at the Jerusalem District Court during a hearing for the yeshiva student Yisrael Vales, who was released to house arrest that day. The photographers were already preparing to photograph the ultra-Orthodox man, who is suspected of killing his infant child, while he remained seated as the siren sounded.

At 9:45 the judge did the ultra-Orthodox public a big favor: He announced a recess, and Vales was taken from the room. And so a new discussion on the ultra-Orthodox attitude toward the siren was averted.

In the past, the ultra-Orthodox press has referred to the week between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Remembrance Day for Israel's Fallen Soldiers as "the days of incitement and calamity." This came as a response to the media's practice of photographing ultra-Orthodox people crossing the street as the siren wailed on these memorial days, and the ensuing public outcry that ensued.

In recent years, the secular media's interest in the ultra-Orthodox failing to stop for the siren has been waning. Sivan Rahav-Meir, the legal and Jewish affairs correspondent for Channel 2, relates that she has never been asked to cover religious people who don't stop for the siren. She believes it is part of the media's relative lack of interest in issues such as religion and state in recent years.

There is also the possibility that the ultra-Orthodox are responding to the calls in their media to stand still when the siren is sounded, at least when they are outside, despite their claim that it is a gentile custom.

"The ultra-Orthodox learned that people look at them and don't like when they don't stand still during the siren," says Avraham Rosenthal, the editor of the ultra-Orthodox paper Bakehila. "I teach my children to stand for the siren and not to be wise guys. If here the memory of the fallen is honored by standing during the siren, then they too will stand during the siren."

On the other hand, who knows? Perhaps as early as this coming Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers some photographer will capture an ultra-Orthodox man walking during the siren, and the attacks will again resume.

They adopted Holocaust Remembrance Day

Officially, Holocaust Remembrance Day is not a holiday for the ultra-Orthodox. In the past the ultra-Orthodox media even referred to Holocaust Remembrance Day and Remembrance Day for Israel's Fallen as "yemei eidam" (days of misfortune), a phrase usually reserved for describing gentile holidays.

In reality, the ultra-Orthodox's gradual move toward the state is also evident on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Just as the independent ultra-Orthodox newspapers interview senior ministers on holiday eves, they also devoted numerous articles to Holocaust Remembrance Day in last weekend's editions.

The ultra-Orthodox Bakehila interviewed the number one ultra-Orthodox Holocaust researcher and the head of the Center for Holocaust Studies at the Michlala Jerusalem College for Women, Rabbanit Esther Farbstein, who spoke about the changes in the ultra-Orthodox attitude toward the Holocaust.

Mishpaha, another ultra-Orthodox paper, devoted most of its issue to the Holocaust. It interviewed the elder statesman of the ultra-Orthodox journalists, Yosef Friedenson, who went through six concentration camps and stood in line for hours waiting to use the only pair of tefillin (phylacteries) in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Mishpaha's Rosenthal reports that most of today's issue is also devoted to the Holocaust. In the past, he says, there were objections in principle to Holocaust Remembrance Day. But over the years, "I don't know why, it somehow spread that after Passover we focus on the Holocaust," he comments.

Afterward, he offers an explanation: "Because we live here."