A Message from Rabbi Berkman in honor of Israeli Memorial Day & Israeli Independence Day

Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman

April 28, 2020 / 4 Iyar 5780

In the Jewish landscape of time, we experience communal celebration and communal mourning on our sacred days. In this time of living through a global pandemic, we can feel uprooted and disoriented as our routines and calendars have been upended, and reconnecting to the Jewish calendar can help us feel grounded and connected. Together, while we are navigating an unprecedented challenge facing all of humanity, we are also continuing to cycle through Jewish time with all of its peaks and valleys. This time of year, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Iyar, calls us to awareness of our connection to the people, the land, and the nation of Israel. It is also an opportunity to remember that regardless of the profound challenges we may face as individuals, as Jews, or as human beings, we must be fully present to both sorrow and joy which can be found in every moment, often inextricably linked together.

Though these days we are living through now may seem blurred together, and we may be experiencing a new and profound sense of uncertainty about the future, the Jewish calendar continues to move us forward, through cycles which remind us that the moment we are part of something much bigger than our own individual lives. Today is Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, when we remember Israel’s fallen soldiers as well as victims of terror. Tonight, the powerful transition from mourning to celebration begins, as we celebrate the existence of the only Jewish nation on earth, on Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israeli Independence Day. Of course, in the liminal space in between anguish and hope, is where we all truly live. Life holds “beauty and terror,” as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke tells us, and within the miraculous human heart lies the ability to hold all of it. So on this day, as we move through the annual emotional roller coaster of mourning and celebration, perhaps there is new resonance for us as we are more in touch with the preciousness, and precariousness, of our lives. Perhaps we have a new understanding of the simple and profound strength of our connection to our loved ones, and to our people and its sacred story and rhythms.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says that the Jewish people are the “people of hope.” Our stories and our sacred calendar reminds us always that what we are experiencing right now must be met with our full presence of mind and heart, because each moment holds within it both sorrow and joy, both permanence and impermanence. Let us remember that we are a part of an ancient tradition, the history and sacred cycles of which can give us strength to meet the present moment. In honor of the 72nd (which, strikingly, is 4 times 18 – “chai” – LIFE) birthday of the state of Israel, a nation which embodies living through contemporary challenges and joys while rooted in an ancient wisdom and the strength of connection to community and history which transcend us all, I want to share with you the following poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. Amichai’s name means “My People Lives.” In these two central days in the Israeli and Jewish calendar, we celebrate that yes, through deepest darkness and incomprehensible blessing, through pain and vision and hope, the Jewish People lives. “Am Yisrael Chai.”

A man doesn’t have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn’t have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
Was wrong about that.
A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
what history
takes years and years to do.
A man doesn’t have time.
When he loses he seeks, when he finds
he forgets, when he forgets he loves, when he loves
he begins to forget.
And his soul is seasoned, his soul
is very professional.
Only his body remains forever
an amateur. It tries and it misses,
gets muddled, doesn’t learn a thing,
drunk and blind in its pleasures
and its pains.
He will die as figs die in autumn,
Shriveled and full of himself and sweet,
the leaves growing dry on the ground,
the bare branches pointing to the place
where there’s time for everything.

Yehuda Amichai
A Man In His Life