There’s a unique atmosphere around Yom ha-Zikaron due to its proximity to Yom ha-Atzma’ut, an uneasy coexistence of expected solemnity and anticipated joy, sirens blaring and people standing stock still in the streets, while Israeli flags flutter from every balcony and every shop offers deals on Yom Ha-Atzma’ut must-haves from grilled meat to oversized plastic hammers to exuberantly hit people with.
And of course another Yom ha-Zikaron tradition is the slew of articles examining the refusal of the ultra-Orthodox (and more recently disaffected religious Zionists) to participate in what one might expect to be a holiday that could arouse no protest – a holiday commemorating the thousands of young men and women who have died to secure the right of Jews to live as Jews in a Jewish state. But of course, as we see from the yearly protests in Kikkar Shabbat in Geulah, the graffiti and pashkvilim in Meah She’arim identifying it as “Shetach Falastini” (Palestinian Territory), or trumpeting, “Ein knisah l’Tziyonim” (No entry to Zionists), or merely warning about the bite of the “Zionist dogs,” some people will take just about any excuse to strike a blow at the state which protects them, including dishonoring the memory of those who sacrifice everything so that the Charedim can continue to pretend the world stopped in Poland 400 years ago. I’m sure the Palestinians would not be so accomodating.
What’s the most frequently heard reason for the refusal of many ultra-Orthodox to acknowledge Yom ha-Zikaron or stand still in the streets as the memorial siren goes off? Ah: the siren-and-standing-at-attention deal, you see, is a “gentile custom,” and as such they could not possibly stoop from their elevated cloud of holiness to respect it.
The fact that no other country that I know of commemorates its fallen soldiers with a nationwide siren nonwithstanding, I thought I might list a small fraction of the other gentile concepts and borrowings which have snuck their way into traditional Judaism ever since Abraham set out from Ur.
– Being costumed at all times in black coats and black/fur hats (thank you, Polish noblemen!)
– 3/4 of the Yiddish language
– Many religiously significant Hebrew terms, including Sanhedrin and apikores (both Greek), not to mention all the borrowings from Aramaic, the language of Aram and Babylon
– The account of the world’s creation (standard pan-Mesopotamian cosmogony)
– The concept of a reward-oriented afterlife (does not appear in the Torah or Prophets)
– The concept of a messiah/redeemer (later, post-Pentateuch introduction to Judaism)
– The concept of the universalness, as opposed to particularness, of the Torah (arose after contact with Greek universalist philosophy)
– The flood account (predated by nearly identical Sumerian myths)
– A complex hierarchical demonology
– Sexual puritanism (influenced by Christianity)
– Maimonidean rationalism
– Monogamy (influenced by Christianity)
– Purim masquerade (influenced by Catholic Carnival)
– Dreidels and gelt
– Traditional melodies to prayers, both Ashkenazic and Sephardic
– Any modern religious Jewish music, from Matisyahu to Avrum Fried
– Challah, blintzes, tzimmes, knishes, hamantaschen, latkes, and any other “Jewish” food you can think of
You know, seeing as that list really is only a fraction, and yet includes some of the most fundamental theological concepts of modern Judaism, as well as daily practices by religious Jews everywhere, you might be led to think that bowing out of Yom ha-Zikaron because it’s a “gentile custom” is a little bit inconsistent and hypocritical. If Chasidim can sing a niggun to the tune of “La Marseillaise” and not go to Hell (oops, there’s another gentile innovation!), I think they can stand still for a siren to honor Israel’s dead.
But then again, it never really was about the gentile custom, was it?
Have a happy Yom ha-Atzma’ut!