On Wednesday evening, May 11, the Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton hosted a dual Yom Hazikaron Commemoration and Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration in its new building. Several hundred local residents came to participate.
Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, spiritual leader of Young Israel, began the Yom Hazikaron program, stating that the first Yom Hazikaron began on May 14, 1948, hours before the declaration of the State of Israel, 68 years ago to the day on the Hebrew calendar. Quoting from David Ben Gurion’s diary, the rabbi continued by remembering that tragic morning, when the Gush Etzion bloc was lost to the Jordanian Arab Legion. Every Jewish man there was killed (the women and children having been previously evacuated). David Ben Gurion declared the founding of the State of Israel at 4 p.m. Following the ceremony, he immediately returned to military headquarters to deal with the attack of seven Arab armies.
The rabbi stressed the importance of recognizing the enormous sacrifices made to create and maintain Medinat Yisrael. It was not a free gift. It was paid for with the blood of many Jews, and with the suffering of the newly created widows and orphans. Unfortunately, this history continues to the present day, though the nature of the attacks has changed. Israel remains incredibly vibrant, but at great expense, which must never be forgotten.
Rabbi Glasser continued with a story told by Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau. Rabbi Lau’s mentor, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (d. 1995), was asked by students for permission to take off from their yeshiva studies to go pray at the graves of tzaddikim up in the Galilee, and to go to Meron for Lag B’ Omer. The Sage responded that down the road from the yeshiva in Jerusalem was Mount Herzl, with its large military cemetery filled with Kedoshim (young Jews who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the Jewish people). Better to go there to pray, he said.
Rabbi Glasser said everyone in the audience should visit Har Herzl the next time they are in Israel. He said it is important to pay respects to those Jews who sacrificed their lives so the rest could live, and so they could have a State of Israel, which must not be taken for granted.
Prayers were then recited on behalf of the soldiers of Tzahal (Israel Defense Force), movingly led by Young Israel member Dr. Ronald Wachsberg, the father of a current IDF soldier.
As nighttime fell, Rabbi Glasser shifted to Yom Ha’atzmaut celebratory mode. He emphasized that Yom Ha’atzmaut is about offering Hoda’ah (thanksgiving) to Hashem for the miracle of the State of Israel. The rabbi explained the importance of living in a generation fortunate to return Jewish sovereignty to the land of Israel. He gave as an analogy a recent zoo trip he made with his children on Pesach. While the animals’ living conditions at the zoo were quite good, it was just their habitat, not their home. Their true home is in the wilds. So too for Jews in the golah (Diaspora). America is, Passaic is, a habitat. Israel is home.
Next came the Yom Ha’atzmaut tefillot. The brand new prayer books for the evening were donated by Rabbi Emeritus Chaim Wasserman, who is now practicing what he preached—he lives in Israel having made aliyah upon retiring from the shul. Yitz Weiss led a song-filled service. At the end of davening, the men burst into spontaneous song and dance in the main sanctuary. This portion of the program concluded with the singing of HaTikvah and Shlomo Mermelstein blowing a huge Yemenite shofar.
The festivities continued downstairs in the shul’s social hall. A poignant video message was played from Avichai Wachsberg, a shul member currently serving in the IDF. Mordy Nissel and his crew (Adina Mermelstein, Cipi Brand, Paula Baumser, Ezra Nissel and Moshe Mermelstein) prepared the incredibly attractive and appetizing repast. Special thanks were given to Teddy Cohen of Jerusalem Pizza in Passaic for his donation of food. There was Israeli food (falafel), American food (hot dogs), healthy food (salads) and unhealthy food (the scrumptious desserts).
Moshe Mermelstein DJ’ed the Israeli religious music. The atmosphere was happy and most of the attendees sat down, relaxed and shmoozed.
Rabbi Glasser told the Jewish Link, “The Young Israel has hosted a vibrant Yom Ha’atzmaut program for decades. However, it was especially moving to perpetuate this legacy now in our new shul building. I am infinitely grateful to God, and those who sacrificed their lives, for this incredible gift of Jewish history.”
By Shmuel Landesman