Two Months of Significant Jewish Dates
The spring months are filled with many significant Jewish events, especially in May and June. Just days after Pesach ends, Jews recall the greatest catastrophe to ever befall our people on Yom Hashoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day, which this year falls on May 2nd. Six days later, on the 3rd of Iyar (May 8th), is Israel’s Yom Hazikaron, or Memorial Day, commemorating their fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Both Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron are observed in Israel with the sounding of air raid sirens at the same moment throughout the entire country. The whole country comes to a complete halt, everyone stops what they are doing and stands silently at attention. Even traffic stops and everyone gets out of their cars, busses, etc. and stands until the siren ends. Somehow, miraculously, when the siren is over everyone get back in their cars and calmly wait for the vehicles in front of them to move before continuing driving.
The very next day after the sadness and solemnity of Yom Hazikaron, Israel breaks into wild jubilation for Yom Ha-atz’ma-ut – Israel’s Independence Day. This year it falls on May 9. In Israel it’s a day of partying, fireworks displays, parades and celebration. Even when times are tough and Israel has experienced setbacks and enormous challenges, and even as it sometimes struggles to live up to the ideals of its founders, the fact of Israel’s existence deserves to be celebrated by all Jews.
Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha-atz’ma-ut are all modern additions to the Jewish calendar. Adding celebrations or commemorations has been a continuous process throughout our history. In the Roman period the followers of Rabbi Akiva designated the 18th Day of the month of Iyar as a minor holiday to commemorate the sudden end of a terrible plague which had devastated many of his students. The day, known as Lag Ba’Omer, or the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, eventually became an occasion for picnics and bonfires, and for a relaxation of some of the restrictions which observant Jews uphold during the Omer period (which is from the 2nd day of Pesach until Shavuot). This year Lag Ba’Omer coincides with May 23rd.
The most recent addition to the Jewish calendar is Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day, marking the day on which Jerusalem was re-captured by the Israeli army in the Six Day War of 1967. This year Yom Yerushalayim falls on June 2nd (the 28th of Iyar).
The only Biblical holiday which occurs during this period is Shavuot, or “weeks,” originally a harvest festival held 7 weeks after the beginning of the barley harvest during Pesach. It has also become strongly associated with the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Shavuot is one of the three biblical “Pilgrimage Festivals” when our ancestors used to go to Jerusalem to celebrate. Hence it is the same status and level of sanctity as Sukkot and Pesach. Shavuot is on the 6th of Sivan, which falls on Saturday night May 8 and Sunday May 9.
I encourage you to learn more about our rich and fascinating history by exploring each of these significant dates online, and finding suitable ways to commemorate them.