Transitioning to Joy

By Paul Bernstein
Prizmah's CEO

The transition from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzma’ut is the ultimate mood swing. In an instant, we move from mourning those whose lives were lost establishing and sustaining the State of Israel to joyfully celebrating Israel in all its complexities.

This year, for many of us, mood swings are a regular occurrence. Each day we experience so many different emotions, on both the “micro” level of our own homes and families and the “macro” level of our school, community and society as a whole. As we begin to look towards what might follow the current lockdown, what kind of future are we imagining? How can we make the transition from isolation to a future “new” normal? Perhaps the model of Israel’s commemorative days offers some perspective.

In the past decade, Beit Tefila Yisraeli created a special Havdalah to mark the jarring transition between Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzma’ut. Their ceremony frames the paradox of this moment:

As the sun sets, the national pathos shifts from sorrow to joy in a matter of moments. This stark transition captures the intensity of modern Israeli life; however, many Israelis feel alienated by the official commemorations that emphasize nationalism or religion. With war an unfortunately common occurrence and memories of lost friends and family abound, Beit Tefilah Israeli recognized a number of years ago the need for a sensitive ceremony that celebrates Israel’s national triumph, yet expresses the sorrow for a dream of peace, still unfulfilled.

The ceremony weaves together songs, poems, Biblical quotes, traditional prayers and even Israeli author David Grossman’s eulogy for his son, who fell in combat in 2006. At the center of the service is a modern Havdalah prayer, marking the separation between the holy sorrow of Yom HaZikaron and the holy joy of Yom HaAtzma’ut.

One of the primary innovations is a blessing created as part of the ceremony, which blesses G-d, in these terms:

Asher yatzar et ha-adam bechochmah, uvara vo yagon va-anachah, ve-sasson ve’simchah.
Who has created human beings with wisdom and endowed them with suffering and pain, joy and gladness.

This blessing incorporates the idea that as humans we are created with the capacity for suffering and pain, as well as joy and gladness. The blessing is the ability to transition between these two poles of emotion. Perhaps it is this blessing that can help us during our own days of dramatic change.

Commemorating Yom HaZikaron and celebrating Yom HaAtzma'ut sequentially offers us the chance to replicate both historic and contemporary shifts in human experience. May our transitions to joy be peaceful, may our plans for a brighter future build on the challenges we have overcome and what we have learned about how connected we can all be in spite of distance. And, of course, may those who are ill be soon healed and may those who heal and those who tend to human needs find strength every day.