May 18, 2024
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The Jewish Center of the UWS Hosts Community-Wide Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut Event

Simcha Greinman and Jonny Daniels. (Credit: Neal A. Cohen)

Many Manhattan shuls and schools came together at The Jewish Center to commemorate Yom HaZikaron and celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut.

As stated by Rabbi Dr. Yosie Levine of The Jewish Center at the start of the Tekes MaAvar, we gathered “to honor the memory of 1,600 Israelis killed since this date last year. We suffered the loss of 766 chayalim and 834 civilians. Every one of them, a painful and tragic loss.”

This Yom HaZikaron, the first since October 7, marked our heartfelt pain which was overwhelmingly intense. Observed Rabbi Levine: “Israel is such a small country of such a small people; everyone knows someone who suffered a loss and so our grief feels very close and very deep.”

Simcha Greinman, a deputy commander in the search and rescue organization Zaka, who rushed towards harm’s way on October 7 along with hundreds of Zaka volunteers to assist with the retrieval of those who were killed, spoke about his experience.

Face-painting and more!
(CREDIT: JUDITH FALK)

Describing his time after October 7, Greinman stated it was “18 weeks going through all the kibbutzim, cars, houses… hundreds of bodies, men, women, children.”

Greinman continued by describing the unimaginable horrors he saw which are seared into his memory, and reflected on how something as simple as finding a cake in a house he searched was fraught with angst.

“Coming into one of the houses in one of the kibbutzim and seeing a birthday cake sitting on the living room table, you think to yourself… what a happy moment it was. It was someone’s birthday. Maybe it was Simchat Torah so that was the reason they had cake. Or maybe Shabbat.”

Enjoying dessert at the Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebration. (Credit: Judith Falk)

In a recorded video, Rabbi Doron Perez, executive chairman of the World Mizrachi Movement, spoke of his son Daniel, HY”D who was killed by Hamas.

Rabbi Perez stated that Daniel “was first missing, then taken hostage hopefully alive, then we knew he was injured, then we heard 163 days later that he was deceased, his body still held in Gaza.”

Continued Rabbi Perez, “I’ve been very involved in Yom HaZikaron ceremonies throughout my life as a student, an individual, a Jew, and a Jewish leader. I never thought I would be a father, a father of our beloved son Daniel, participating so integrally in this National Day of Commemoration.”

It feels impossible to describe the feeling in the packed sanctuary when the room was darkened and the attendees illuminated their candles, with all eyes watching the videos projected on the walls that were displaying scenes of Yom HaZikaron, all enveloped in a deafening silence pierced by the sound of the siren heard in Israel on this emotional day.

Making beaded bracelets for chayalim and evacuees.
(Credit: Judith Falk)

It feels impossible to describe the moving voices of Chazzans Jon Green of The Jewish Center, Yanky Lemmer of Lincoln Square Synagogue and Zevi Muller of West Side Institutional Synagogue, who together guided us through the pain of Yom HaZikaron in prayer and song.

It feels impossible to describe the celebration in the attendees’ collective voices as they transitioned from Yom HaZikaron to Yom Ha’Atzmaut, uniting in musical Hallel, singing as loudly as they could. It is almost as if the pain of the preceding hour unleashed itself in the form of joyful song.

And yes, it is indeed difficult to understand how it is possible to commemorate immense loss of lives in one moment, and partake in a joyous celebration of Israel Independence Day in the next.

Rabbanit Adena Berkowitz and Dr. Nava Silton with her son Jonah Brandwein. (Credit: Judith Falk)

In this vein, perhaps it is helpful to consider the words of Rabbi Levine who commented on the juxtaposition of emotion during this difficult time in our history:

“Of course our hearts are filled with infinite sadness over the events of this past year,” he said, “but the heroism of our chayalim and the resilience of our people remind us that there are also a million reasons to be hopeful. In the history of the Jewish people, the road to redemption has never been a linear one. It’s long and winding and filled with setbacks, but it always leads back to the promised land.”

View of The Jewish Center sanctuary. (Credit: Susan Baranker)

Judith Falk is the creator of the Upper West Side Shtetl Facebook Group. You can follow her on instagram @upperwestsideshtetl. She is a lawyer by day and a former legal reporter.

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