Just before the conclusion of the traditional Jewish marriage ceremony, the groom crushes a glass with his foot, commemorating the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem two millennia ago. The rabbis instruct that even when we are most joyful we pause to remember the sadness we have endured. A moment later, the wedding ends with shouts of “mazel tov!” to mark the newlyweds’ first moments together.
That sense of recalling tragedy before marking a simcha resonates this week as we mark Yom HaShoah, the date that most Jewry has accepted as the time for commemorating the loss of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust. Sundown next Tuesday ushers in Yom HaZikaron, the day of remembrance on which Israel honors the thousands of soldiers who have fallen in the country’s defense since 1948. Both days are somber in Israel, movie theaters and other sites of entertainment closed, television channels running hours of interviews and documentaries on dark subjects, sirens sounding throughout the country while traffic and daily life comes to a stop, heads bowed, for a few moments.
Enter Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, on Wednesday night, as Yom HaZikaron fades into dusk. At nightfall, the character of Israel changes — the land is filled with concerts, dancing in the streets, upbeat TV shows about the miracle of Israel’s survival.
To an outsider, the instantaneous annual shift from mourning to celebration appears almost manic-depressive.
To an insider, though, to citizens of Israel or members of the wider Jewish nation in the diaspora, this is what Jewish life is all about — echoing the passage in The Book of Ecclesiastes, “a time to weep and time to laugh, a time to mourn and time to dance.”
Jewish history contains its share of hills and valleys, Jewish rebirth and rebuilding inevitably following the bleakest periods, as the birth of the State of Israel came on the ashes of the Holocaust.
This perspective allows us to face the future with a sense of hope, believing that the light of Israel will illuminate the darkness of days when we remember tragedy. This is why we continue to live Jewish lives, breaking a glass while building a stronger community.
This week we mourn the Shoah together and in a few days we will mourn Israel’s fallen soldiers as well. Then we will rejoice for the privilege of living at a time when the Jewish state is a reality once more, after so many centuries of homelessness and persecution. Israel faces no shortage of challenges, but its very existence is cause for celebration, more fully appreciated after marking the depths from which it has risen.