The Jewish calendar helps us mark sacred time, and not just through the celebrations commanded in the Torah. Nowhere is this truer than in the observance of Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. This sacred time galvanizes world Jewry. The photographs, texts, and videos span themes relevant to the observance and commemoration of these two important modern moments of sacred Jewish time.
Understanding History Through Photographs
Photographs can serve as entry points into understanding Israeli history and culture. World-renowned photographer Zion Ozeri explores the Jewish experience through his camera lens. His photographs have been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide, and we are fortunate to have worked with him to create our Israel Lens materials. Ozeri’s work explores a personal search for connection in a world impacted by exile and loss.
In exploring the photographs below, ask participants to write down five objective observations and five subjective observations of each photograph.
An objective observation is something that doesn’t change from person to person—it is something you can all agree on. For example, there are two men in the photograph, the photograph is in black and white, etc.
A subjective observation is an opinion, a feeling, or an interpretation based on what you see. Such as, “it reminds me of the time I did x”, or, “I think that man might feel sad,” or “I think he looks poor.”
After they share their objective and subjective observations, ask them:
- What do you think the photographer was trying to capture with this photograph? Why?
- Does this photograph capture an event? If so, which event?
Now look at a personal photo through both an objective observation lens and a subjective observation lens. What do you see? What story does this photo share about your family?
David's Lament and Yom Hazikaron
with materials from Sefaria
The story of David, Saul, and Jonathan is told in the Book of Samuel. King Saul and his son, Jonathan, were killed during a battle with the Philistines on Mt. Gilboa. When David is told of the losses, he mourns them in a famous poem, which is referred to as David's Lament.
David's Lament has become a central theme of the Israel Defense Force's Memorial Day (Yom Hazikaron) ceremonies. The lamentation has two parts: National and personal. It contains a mix of heroism and glory along with sadness, and bereavement.
David's Lament has found its way into modern Hebrew language phrases, has been used as an inspiration for names of villages and kibbutzim in Israel, and is the foundation for many literary works. What influence has this lament had on the design of Yom Hazikaron?
Three major concepts of Yom Hazikaron are found in this text.
Hatzvi Yisrael ('הַצְּבִי֙ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל, "the glory of Israel"), Bimotecha Halal (בָּמוֹתֶ֖יךָ חָלָ֑ל, "slain"—a word that was used 3,000 years ago by King David, yet still has great meaning on this day), and Aich naflu giborim (אֵ֖יךְ נָפְל֥וּ גִבּוֹרִֽים, "how the mighty have fallen"). These words appear at the beginning and the end of the lamentation, thus becoming the main phrase. These three words have become the refrain of Yom Hazikaron. In this song you can listen to the way the "glory of Israel" is used in a modern context:
David's Lament as a Paradigm of Personal Loss
These words express the feeling of those who are in pain and cannot bear the continuation of life as it was before the loss. The rain can't come down here anymore, so how can anything be expected to grow here? These feelings appear in many Israeli memorial songs, two of which are described below.
"So Short Is This Spring" was written by David Grossman in memory of his son, Uri, who was killed in the 2006 Lebanon War. The song is supposedly a song about nature, but in fact is a metaphor for the spring of his son's life; the Israeli spring is so short and beautiful, and his sudden disappearance is painful and heartbreaking.
"Wheat is Growing Again" is a song written by Dorit Tzameret, a member of Kibbutz Beit Hashita after the fall of 11 kibbutz members during the Yom Kippur War. As in King David's Lament, the wheat grows, even though "you will not come back."
The friendship between David and Jonathan was seen by the rabbis as the epitome of what we should strive for in our own friendships. Their's was a pure, non-transactional friendship, as described in the text from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers.
Friendship is one of the main values of Israel's Memorial Day, a natural result of fighting together, of fellowship of warriors and of the sacrifice of one for the other. As it is recited in this song:
Because such a friendship will never
let our hearts forget
The love that is sacred with blood
You will flourish again amongst us.
David's Lament as an Expression of National Mourning
Just like in David's Lament, Yom Hazikaron shifts from personal to national. From the personal memory of a loved one, a beautiful moment of memorial, to the national and historical context and belonging to the common purpose and pain of the State of Israel. Between "heroes" and "lovers and pleasant", between "war tools" and "crimson and finery", between "Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights;" to " Jonathan, slain on your heights!".
Celebrate Israel and Explore the State's Symbol
with materials from Sefaria
This 60-minute experience is focused on 5th-12th graders and their families.
This is the symbol of the State of Israel.
- What are the different components of this emblem?
- What do you think the different parts of the emblem symbolize?
- Why might Israel's founders have chosen this particular image?
The new State of Israel was in need of an official emblem to demonstrate its sovereignty in the community of nations. As you read the proclamation below, consider the following questions for discussion:
- What is interesting to you about the process of designing the emblem?
- In what ways was the Shamir brothers' idea fully accepted, and in what ways was it modified?
- What symbolisms did the Shamir brothers seek to capture in their design?
The following notice was published in the Official Gazette:
The Provisional Council of State
Proclamation of the Emblem of the State of Israel
The Provisional Council of State hereby proclaims and makes known that the emblem of the State of Israel shall be as illustrated below:
11 Shevat 5709 (10 February 1949)
Provisional Council of State
Joseph Sprinzak, Speaker
The official emblem was adopted nine months after the State was established; it has since appeared on official documents, on the presidential standard and on public buildings in Israel and abroad. In the process of designing the emblem, many proposals which sought to include the symbols deemed appropriate for representing the Jewish people in their reborn state were reviewed. To avoid imitating the emblems of European countries and to create a unique one, ancient visual symbols from former periods of Jewish sovereignty were sought.
The Provisional Council of State announced a competition to design the emblem of the State.
The proposal submitted by graphic artists Oteh Walisch and W. Struski (Figure 3) was originally chosen out of 450 designs submitted by 164 participants. The seven branched-candelabrum of the Temple - the menorah - occupies the center of the Walisch and Struski seal. The candelabrum is undoubtedly the oldest Jewish symbol. It has no parallel in heraldry and produces an immediate association with the subject it represents - the Temple in Jerusalem. The artists took as their model the depiction of the menorah in relief on the Arch of Titus in Rome (picture below). They simplified the shape into a sort of schematic negative in white, displayed against a light-blue background. The upper portion of the emblem showed a white band, on which the seven golden stars are emblazoned, which Theodor Herzl had intended for the flag of the Jewish state. He had meant these stars to stand for the seven-hour work-day he envisioned for the future citizens of the Jewish state.
(Menorah in relief on the Arch of Titus in Rome)
The committee decided that the seven-branched menorah should be one of the elements of the emblem, but each member had his own ideas as to what other elements, e.g. candles or the "Lion of Judah," should be included. Transport Minister David Remez suggested that experts in various fields, be included in the committee. Thus, Aba Elhanani (architect), Eliezer Sukenik (archeologist), Reuven Rubin (painter) and Leopold Krakauer (architect-artist) joined the committee.
One of the new proposals submitted to the Emblem and Flag Committee was rendered by graphic artists Itamar David and Yerachmiel Schechter.
The most significant change in the David and Schechter design is the change of the circular form (in the synagogue in Jericho) into an ellipse. Elliptical seals were common during the period of the monarchy. They generally bore the name of the owner (sometimes along with that of his father), plus a decorative element.
Among the many proposals submitted during this round was one by the brothers Maxim and Gavriel Shamir. Beba Idelson presented their design to the members of the Seal and Flag Committee at its sixth meeting, on December 28, 1948.
(initial Shamir proposal, 1948)
According to Gavriel Shamir, their design evolved as follows:
After we decided to use the menorah, we looked for another element and concluded that olive branches are the most beautiful expression of the Jewish people's love of peace. The leaves are also a very decorative element. Now we faced the question of which menorah to use... We decided on a stylized version rather than an ancient form. Our intention was to create a modern emblem, without Jewish traditional symbols. We told ourselves that the menorah itself is an ancient symbol and its very presence on the seal constitutes a traditional element.
(A. P., "How the Emblem of the State of Israel was Born," interview with the Shamir brothers, Ma'ariv, February 16, 1949).
The Shamir brothers' menorah was so "modern" that the Emblem and Flag Committee, convened on January 10, 1949, was overcome by doubts at the "modernity" which they themselves had suggested. They did not like the stylized menorah and resolved that Beba Idelson, as suggested by Transport Minister David Remez, ask the Shamir brothers to prepare another design, using "Titus's menorah."
Remez's return to this version added another level of symbolism to the menorah motif, one that had been absent from the earlier proposals: now the menorah would symbolize not only the grandeur of the past but also the present and, perhaps, the future.
Borrowing the menorah from the Arch of Titus would constitute the visual metaphor of an idea prevalent in those years: just as the relief representing Titus's triumphal procession in Rome stood for the destruction of the Jewish state in 70 CE, so its rebirth would be symbolized by the return of the menorah - if not to the Temple - then to the newly born State of Israel. In other words, the menorah is returned from the Arch of Titus, where it symbolizes defeat, humiliation, and disgrace, and is installed in a place of honor on the emblem of the State, the establishment of which is testimony to the eternity of the Jewish people.
Singing the Song of Israel
with materials from Sefaria
Songs have been important to Israelis from the very beginning of the creation of the state. Some songs have biblical themes, some describe the beauty of the land and nature, while others express the desire for peace and the warmth of the people.
Yom Ha'atzmaut is a time to listen to popular Israeli songs of the past, discover new songs, and even create a video montage in honor of Israel's Independence Day! Through these actions, we can celebrate and honor the hopes, dreams, and accomplishments of the people of Israel.
The beautiful land of Israel is the topic of many popular Yom Ha'atzmaut songs.
Becoming familiar with the land is important to Israelis and hiking throughout the country is a favorite activity.
In the Torah, the first thing that God told Abraham to do after giving him the land, was to get up and take a hike.
(יד) וַֽיהוָ֞ה אָמַ֣ר אֶל־אַבְרָ֗ם אַחֲרֵי֙ הִפָּֽרֶד־ל֣וֹט מֵֽעִמּ֔וֹ שָׂ֣א נָ֤א עֵינֶ֙יךָ֙ וּרְאֵ֔ה מִן־הַמָּק֖וֹם אֲשֶׁר־אַתָּ֣ה שָׁ֑ם צָפֹ֥נָה וָנֶ֖גְבָּה וָקֵ֥דְמָה וָיָֽמָּה׃ (טו) כִּ֧י אֶת־כָּל־הָאָ֛רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־אַתָּ֥ה רֹאֶ֖ה לְךָ֣ אֶתְּנֶ֑נָּה וּֽלְזַרְעֲךָ֖ עַד־עוֹלָֽם׃ (טז) וְשַׂמְתִּ֥י אֶֽת־זַרְעֲךָ֖ כַּעֲפַ֣ר הָאָ֑רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֣ר ׀ אִם־יוּכַ֣ל אִ֗ישׁ לִמְנוֹת֙ אֶת־עֲפַ֣ר הָאָ֔רֶץ גַּֽם־זַרְעֲךָ֖ יִמָּנֶֽה׃ (יז) ק֚וּם הִתְהַלֵּ֣ךְ בָּאָ֔רֶץ לְאָרְכָּ֖הּ וּלְרָחְבָּ֑הּ כִּ֥י לְךָ֖ אֶתְּנֶֽנָּה׃
(14) And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had parted from him, “Raise your eyes and look out from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west, (15) for I give all the land that you see to you and your offspring forever. (16) I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, then your offspring too can be counted. (17) Up, walk about the land, through its length and its breadth, for I give it to you.”
- Why do you think that God wanted Abraham to walk the land that he would be inheriting?
- What do you learn about the land when you hike that you can't learn any other way?
The following song begins with the words spoken to Abraham, קום והתהלך בארץ, Get up and walk around the land!"
Another type of song was recorded by Israel's most well-known singers in honor of Yom Ha'atzmaut 2019. This song talks about connecting to the land and loving the country and its people (explore this song in our resource).
Now It's Your Turn!
In honor of Yom Ha'atzmaut this year, create a photo montage using a popular Israeli song and photos of Israel.
- Choose a song: Find a song from our Yom Ha'atzmaut playlist, this YouTube Yom Ha'atzmaut playlist, use one of the songs from this page, or choose one of your favorite songs about Israel!
- Find pictures of Israel: Your pictures should show a variety of places in Israel including different areas of the country, nature and city, historical and new. Photos can be found on the internet, or you can add photos from your own albums!
- Create a montage using iMovie or wevideo: Share your videos with us using #IsraelEd, and add to the Yom Ha'atzmaut celebration! Add some Israeli treats to your viewing party!