Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The problem of celebrating a national-religious Yom Ha'atzmaut

As a "national-religious" Jew, I celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut in a twofold manner: As a national holiday of the State of Israel, and as a religious holiday of the Jewish people. Like all Zionist Jews, I celebrate the founding of the state and its accomplishments over the years, while as a religious Jew I also thank God for bestowing on us such a precious gift and for the salvation the Jews have enjoyed through it.

The problem is that the modes of these two celebrations do not always coincide.

As a national holiday, Yom Ha'atzmaut is celebrated with public concerts and fireworks, with music and dance in the evening and barbecues in the afternoon. As a religious holiday, Yom Ha'atzmaut is celebrated with festive prayers, featuring additional psalms and songs of praise to God, and, at most Zionist synagogues, the recitation of Hallel in the morning, and at some in the evening as well.

I've lived in Israel for about ten years, but I have yet to find a pragmatic balance between these modes of celebration, particularly in the evening when the festival begins.

Consider the schedule. The sun sets. The synagogue fills up for the festive Maariv prayer, which lasts about half an hour. As we disperse, crowds are gathering in the city's central park for the main event, with performances and fireworks. But with a religious holiday beginning, I feel the need for a festive family meal. Granted, there is no obligatory religious feast for Yom Ha'atzmaut, but this is how Jews celebrate, with festive meals.

If we go to the public party, what will we eat? We'll crowd in with other families trying to get the attention of an overworked fast food vendor, and end up chowing down on pizza or burgers in the park, while hyperactive kids dash back and forth spraying silly string and shaving cream on each other to the amplified boom of the music from the stage. This is hardly civilized, and is certainly far from traditional Jewish modes of religious celebration.

Alternatively, we can go home first and sit down for a proper holiday meal. (Some even hold what they call a "Yom Ha'atzmaut seder", at which they recount the history of the State of Israel and the miracles with which God has blessed us through it.) But by the time we get home, eat, and go out again, we've missed most of the concerts and most of the fireworks. The kids (at least once they're older) are disappointed, and even the adults feel they've missed the big event, as if by having a family meal we haven't shared in the communal celebration of this national holiday.

With a child in the house, I'm more acutely aware of this dilemma than before, and more eager to find a pragmatic solution for coming years. What do other national-religious families do? What is the "tradition" for celebrating Erev Yom Ha'atzmaut, as both a national and a religious festival?

Help me out, folks. Thanks!


westbankmama said...

On our yishuv we have our own celebration at 10:00 pm (plays and dancing afterwards) that leaves time for a meal beforehand. When my kids were little I would feed them first, so they wouldn't get crazy. Since there really isn't a halachic requirement to eat a festive meal, if I were you I would pass on that and eat before Maariv - if making it to the other celebrations are really important.

Moze said...

Why do you have to have the festive meal at night? Take a cue from Purim and only do shul at night, then go on to the secular part of the celebration. In the morning, do the religious--another celebratory minyan and a seudah.

Zman Biur said...

I suppose we could eat before Ma'ariv, though it's a bit odd to have the meal davka when it's still Yom Hazikaron. I guess we could think of it as accepting Yom Ha'atzmaut early!

Moze - do you not eat after the Megilla on Purim night?