Celebrating Jewish heritage

By Joshua Yudkin

When we look around the world, we see diverse and dynamic Jewish experiences. One week, the Great Synagogue of Barcelona was defaced with graffiti on the eve on Yom HaShoah and, the following week, the Dallas City Council voted to unanimously pass the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of antisemitism on Yom HaAtzmaut. Days after thousands of Portuguese schoolchildren from around Portugal visited the Holocaust Museum of Oporto for Yom
HaShoah, a swastika was found carved into the back of the only kippah-wearing teenager at a Las Vegas High School, a nonverbal Jewish teen with autism.

This time of year can be emotional. From Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, to Yom HaZikaron, Hebrew shorthand for Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of the Wars of Israel and Victims of Actions of Terrorism (in Israel), to Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day, this short span of time acknowledges three recent events in Jewish history to which we have personal connections. We have met and broken bread with Holocaust survivors. We have learned about and visited Israel, our homeland. In many ways, the Holocaust and the state of Israel have defined modern Jewish identity.

Prayers have been added to services. Museums have been established. Laws protecting the rights of all men and women have been passed and codified. New centers of Jewish life have been established. Programs like summer camps and Birthright Israel have revolutionized Jewish education. Hebrew language, literature and music have been reborn. Jewish life has evolved from dreaming of returning to Jerusalem and Zion to making this dream a reality.

During this time of year, we go from extreme sadness to maximal joy and celebration. We remember tragedy and we celebrate life. Transcending geographic, religious and social divisions, we come together as one people who survived and are thriving.

The tangible and relatively recent nature of these events magnifies the associated emotions and experience. Their proximity reminds us of the fragility of human life — including our own. For many, we may have family members who are Holocaust survivors and children who made aliyah. Yet, transcending all divisions, Yom HaAtzmaut commemorates modern self-actualization and self-determination as Jews. It celebrates the chaos, complexity and character of our global Jewish community and civilization.

Since 2006, May has been celebrated as Jewish American Heritage Month. As we transition from this intense period on the Hebrew calendar into a month celebrating our heritage here in America on the secular calendar, what and/or whom do we want to remember? What and/or whom do we want to celebrate? How do we continue this celebration of life, identity and peoplehood?

In Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, it reads, “Lihiot am hofshi, b’artzenu,” to be a free nation in our land. How do we continue to keep this dream alive?

Dr. Joshua Yudkin currently serves as an executive committee member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and works at the intersection of community building and public health.

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