Ethnic food in Jerusalem

While Israel likes to stay true to its hummus and falafel roots (and I often hear people joke that you know you’ve accepted the Israeli lifestyle when you are willing to eat hummus for any meal of the day), there is also a smattering of ethnic restaurants around. Some of these restaurants are jokingly belittled for sub-par attempts at ethnic cuisine, but others are actually quite good. Here are a few non-Middle Eastern food restaurants from around Jerusalem that I’ve tried:

1. Kangaroo

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Kangaroo is a Georgian restaurant near the Ben Yehuda area. The menu is comprised of various meat stews and other traditional Georgian dishes. I ordered a salad sampler plate with various types of salads and spreads:

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I don’t think I had ever had Georgian food prior to Kangaroo, and it’s always fun to try something new! I don’t think it’s a new favorite though, and I would probably prioritize other types of food…or, let’s be real, just eat more hummus.

2. Sushi Rehavia

Sushi Rehavia is a popular sushi/Japanese cuisine chain in Jerusalem. There are a few locations around the city, and I know lots of people who like to use their delivery service. I’m not generally a big sushi fan, but a big part of that is that it’s very difficult to avoid non-kosher seafood at sushi restaurants in the U.S. So, it seemed like a kosher sushi restaurant in Israel would be my best bet for a good sushi experience!

I went to Sushi Rehavia a couple weeks ago with Noah and our friend Avi, and the food was really good! We ordered a few combo sushi plates and a ramen noodle soup (yes, ramen noodles are something besides highly-processed, 99-cent bags of disease-causing preservatives).

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The soup was soooo yummy (as was the sushi, but I mainly ate the soup). I would definitely recommend a visit to Sushi Rehavia.

3. Ness Cafe

The intersection at Emek Refaim and Rachel Imenu has recently undergone some changes. The main storefront previously occupied by Marvad Haksamim has now been taken over by Ness Cafe. But, Marvad Haksamim fans, do not despair. Marvad has simply moved a couple storefronts over on Rachel Imenu to the small shop previously occupied by Ness. Basically, Ness used to only sell coffee and take-out desserts while Marvad had a full restaurant and ran their famous Friday, prepared food for Shabbat business from the restaurant. Now, after swapping spaces, Ness is offering a full restaurant menu and Marvad is only doing take-out food. The interior of Ness is bright and friendly with lots of full-length windows:

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I had bought some desserts from Ness Cafe when it was only a bakery, and everything was quite tasty so I was excited to try the restaurant. As a bakery, Ness had promoted itself as a French establishment (presumably owned by Frenchies). It has kept its same French spirit after becoming a full restaurant…perhaps most notably evidenced by the fact that it had no English menu – only French and Hebrew. WUT?????? This is unheard of in Jerusalem restaurants. Seems like they’re making a statement that the gentrified German Colony area isn’t only American turf anymore (which is already pretty evident from the ever-increasing presence of French language on the streets in these parts. It’s no wonder really, I don’t think I would want to be Jewish in France).

Noah and I chose the Hebrew menu and I was pleased that my Hebrew skills were sufficient enough to enable us to order a salad and pizza:

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The food was good, but it didn’t stand out as particularly different or noteworthy from many of the other cafes around Jerusalem. I think Ness’s main draw remains in its dessert and coffee options.

4. Moshe Burger

*the following three sentences are written with a slightly sarcastic tone
Why is America always getting overlooked for its contributions to world cuisine? Seriously, who doesn’t love a good burger?! Sometimes all you need is a juicy hunk of perfectly-shaped and grilled ground beef, dripping with [insert favorite sauce here].

I fulfilled this basic human need for a good burger a few weeks ago at the Moshe Burger inside Cinema City. Why yes, we went to Cinema City again. :) Moshe Burger had a very sleek ambiance, but the menu and atmosphere was still goofy and fun.

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I ordered a classic burger with a combo of beef and lamb meat, and Noah ordered a set of three sliders (their menu includes lots of creative burger toppings as well as a rotating menu of burger specials):

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Yum yum yum. This was probably the best burger I’ve had in Israel…no doubt in large part because it has been near impossible to get a fully-cooked burger in this country. Holy COW (pun intended to reference the practically living raw meat that has been smushed between two halves of a bun in my previous burger-ordering attempts). Bottom line, go to Moshe Burger and you will be happy.

And since I mentioned Cinema City and, I’m sure, piqued your interest…

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Noah and I are still as enamored as always with the ridiculous show of excess and American culture at this place:

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We saw the movie The Water Diviner in the Twilight Theater. Yes, you heard me, there is a Twilight Theater:

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Admittedly, it was a little hard to focus on Russell Crowe looking for his lost sons who were reportedly killed during the battle at Gallipoli during WWI (basic plot of The Water Diviner) when Edward Cullen was looking down on me…but somehow I managed.

Jerusalem Cafes: Round 6

I haven’t done a Jerusalem Cafes post in a while, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been accumulating visits to blog-worthy cafes! I have a lot to catch up on…but here are recaps from four cafe visits that I’ve really enjoyed! Most of the places are repeats of places I’ve been before (it’s nice to have been in Jerusalem for so long that I have favorites!), but there is a new cafe as well!

1. Caffit

An Emek Refaim classic, I’ve already blogged about Caffit once…okay twice. But it is oh, so delicious. Maybe I should really make a “best of” list instead of only honoring one “best breakfast in Jerusalem.”

Caffit has it all, but the assortment of dips/cheeses/spreads that accompanies their Israeli breakfast is the prime winner in my mind.

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2. Cafe Hillel

Cafe Hillel is a coffee/food chain around Jerusalem somewhat in the vein of Aroma. I’ve posted about Cafe Hillel before, but I gave a recap of some lunch items in that post. On my more recent visit, I ordered a breakfast dish: focaccia topped with 2 eggs. My dining companion ordered the Israeli breakfast.

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Everything was delicious! The focaccia was so tasty…probably because of the copious amounts of butter that seemed to be dribbled on top.

3. Kalo

Again, Kalo is somewhere that I’ve visited in the past – once and twice. Again, Kalo is so good that I want to show you more mouth-watering photographs.

Pictured below is an eggs benedict dish with smoked salmon (which I loved because they didn’t smother it in hollandaise as so often happens in the U.S…) as well as an Israeli breakfast.

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4. Cafe Yehoshua

Last but not least, Noah and I branched out from our typical digs and went for breakfast at the new-to-us Cafe Yehoshua in the Rehavia neighborhood. Friends had raved to us about Cafe Yehoshua for months, so we were eager to try it. They had a pretty extensive menu, serving all meals of the day. I went for the basic breakfast which was great (and even included a small piece of grilled cheese with a tomato soup shooter!), and Noah ordered a steak sandwich.

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The food was yummy, but the restaurant isn’t kosher which makes me feel less inclined to re-visit. If kashrut isn’t your thing, though, you would probably enjoy a visit!

If you missed them, check out my other Jerusalem Cafe posts here:

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3
Round 4
Round 5

Best Breakfast in Jerusalem

Breakfast in Israel is amazing. The Israeli Breakfast is double amazing.

eggs+cheese+bread+spreads+veggies+coffee+juice+other rotating goodies = yum/love

Noah and I have thoroughly enjoyed going out to breakfast at various locations around Jerusalem throughout this year (see here and here and here).

All of these breakfasts are delicious and – let’s face it – pretty similar. Yet, one cafe stands out as my favorite place for breakfast in Jerusalem.

The winner is….

KADOSH!

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Kadosh is located on HaMalka Street, relatively near to Mamilla Mall. It has the standard coffee/juice/bread/spreads/eggs/cheese/salad situation, but there is something about it that is unbearably delicious.

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Like other cafes that serve breakfast, Kadosh serves two eggs (cooked your way) with their Israeli breakfast. In addition to just choosing a simple cooking method though, Kadosh has a collection of egg dishes you can select to fill your egg order, ranging from omelettes to fried eggs within brioche:

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Another great thing about Kadosh is that they serve breakfast all day! I have been there 4 times now, and three of the times I was incapable of getting off the breakfast kick, but on my most recent visit I ordered a salad with poached egg, sweet potato, and tahini (Noah stuck with the breakfast!):

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Noah and I will be going to Kadosh for my birthday dinner next week – I’ll post about whatever our meal ends up being!

If you are in Jerusalem for breakfast – or, really, any time of day – I definitely suggest that you hit up Kadosh for a meal. You won’t be disappointed!

Pardes tiyul to the Golan and Upper Galilee

Several weeks ago (yes, I’m way behind on this post!), Noah and I went with Pardes on a 3-day tiyul to northern Israel. We were in the Golan and Upper Galilee region, and the surroundings were a huge difference from the last Pardes tiyul we went on to the southern Negev!

The trip started with a visit to the Jordan River where Yehoshua entered the land of Israel with the Israelite people (shortly after Moses’ death, at which time Yehoshua became the new Jewish leader). The glory of the Jordan River has definitely faded since those years…

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You see the other side of the river? That’s Jordan! Yep, we were real close. :)

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Despite the river itself having become relatively small, it’s still a very interesting historical and spiritual location. It’s also somewhat of a pilgrimage site for Christians because it is the site of Jesus’ bastism. We saw a lot of Christian tourists going for a dip of their own:

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After the river visit, we went on a long hike at Nahal El-Al.

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Along the hike, there were two waterfall locations where some people went for a swim!

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The hike took about 4 hours, and we had a great time!

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After the hike, the group made a final stop at Mitzpeh Gadot, the location of an abandoned Syrian bunker that was captured by the Israeli army during the Six Day War.

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The site had a lot of interesting trenches to look at, and it was also a good place to better understand the shifting of boundaries and power in this region . Also at the site is a memorial monument to the fallen soldiers of the Israeli Golani Brigade:

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After Mitzpeh Gadot, the group went back to our lodging (Kfar Szold Guest House) for dinner and some rest before another full day.

In the morning, we set out for our second big day hike – a hike on Mt. Meron.

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This hike – like the first – was green, gorgeous, and was an opportunity to see some of the flowers in bloom during the spring:

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During this hike, we passed by some ruins, including what’s left of one of the oldest known synagogues (the ruins date back to the first century when the second Temple was still in Jerusalem!):

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After the hike, we visited Amuka, a small town near Tzfat where Rabbi Yonatan ben Uzziel is buried. R. Yonatan ben Uzziel was a student of Rabbi Hillel’s and is mentioned in the Talmud, so his significance stands on its own. Yet, an interesting custom has developed that singles visit the site of his grave to receive a shidduch (match). The legend goes that praying for a match at the site will lead to a partner within a year! There weren’t that many people around when we visited the site…I guess not too many people thought to find their matches with him that day. :)

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When the group left the grave, we drove east towards the Syrian border. In the photo below (out of the bus window), you can see there are still lots of areas closed off with minefield warnings:

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We were heading to Tel Saki –  a small hill that served as an Israeli fortification on the border with Syria during the Yom Kippur War. At Tel Saki, we walking through some of the military trenches and looked across the expanse into Syria:

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From our vantage point, we couldn’t see too much action into Syria…

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But there were still some pretty cool tanks to play on!

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Overall, this was a great tiyul! I loved hiking with Noah and my Pardes teachers and classmates through northern Israel and learning more about that region’s history, successes, and challenges. The tiyulim with Pardes have definitely been a highlight of my year here (see my post on the Negev tiyul and the day trip to Tel Aviv) and have made a huge difference in terms of helping me to see more of the country and to learn more about Israel outside of Jerusalem.

Women of the Wall: a historic Torah reading

This past Rosh Hodesh (Rosh Hodesh Iyar), Noah and I went to the kotel (the Western Wall) for a Rosh Hodesh service. Rosh Hodesh = literally, head of the month, refers to the beginning of a new month in the Hebrew calendar. 

Yes, in theory it would be nice to attend a Rosh Hodesh service at the kotel for any reason, but we were going with the particular aim to participate in and support Women of the Wall. For those who are not familiar with the political situation at the kotel, here’s the break down:

The kotel is divided into a men’s section and a women’s section, divided by a mechitza (a partition used to separate the two genders, customary at Orthodox prayer services). While many people who go to the kotel do not necessarily feel the need for a mechitza and are not necessarily members of communities that use a mechitza as general practice (including myself), the mechitza is generally accepted as a reasonable standard at the kotel to make it accessible to the most number of Jews possible. YET, the mechitza has enabled the development of discriminatory practices against women and their ability to worship freely at the kotel. For example, it is illegal to bring a Torah into the area of the kotel (for all genders in any circumstances). For men, however, this poses no problem because there are over 100 Torahs at the kotel for public use. BUT, all of the Torahs are kept on the mens side – not a single one on the women’s side. Traditionally, women do not read Torah, receive aliyot (recitation of the blessings before and after Torah readings), or lead services, and the set up at the kotel reinforces these traditional restrictions. YET, all Reform and Conservative as well as a growing number of Orthodox communities have adapted this traditional practice to be more welcoming towards women and their full participation in services and Torah leading. Thus, there are MANY, MANY women who regularly participate in and read at Torah services, but they are not able to do so at the kotel. WHY, then, you may ask, do women not have access to Torah at the kotel? Answer: The ultra-Orthodox (haredim) have political control over this area and they maintain the status quo.

Women of the Wall is a group that fights for Jewish women all around the world to be able to worship fully and equally at the kotel. Their hallmark event is a monthly Rosh Hodesh service at the kotel where they hold a complete service led by and participated in by women – including, to whatever extent is possible, a Torah reading. Prior to the first of Iyar a few weeks ago, the group (which has existed since 1988) has never successfully been able to read from a full size Torah scroll at the kotel. Full size scrolls had always been confiscated in the past, although there were successful instances of bringing in mini-scrolls.

So now that you know the background…

Noah and I headed to the Old City for Rosh Hodesh Iyar:

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The service went smoothly and interrupted for all of Pesukei DeZimra and Shacharit, but then it was time for the Torah service…

A male supporter (of whom there are many) got a Torah from the men’s side of the mechitza and handed it to the women by quickly opening up a space in the partition. The partition was quickly closed (and the man was thrown to the ground and injured by an angry ultra-Orthodox man).

Full size Torah in the women’s side – check! Celebration ensues:

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Meanwhile, one of the group leaders prepared the table to open the Torah scroll and read:

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As these events transpired, more and more ultra-Orthodox men were standing on chairs and looking over from the other side of the mechitza (there are also many Women of the Wall male supporters standing and looking over from the side and the back – where Noah was). When the Torah was opened and started to be read, a few ultra-Orthodox men opened the mechitza and tried to push their way into the crowd of women and take the Torah back. One of them was yelling, “zeh sefer sheli!” (this is my book!). The women reading tried to continue as naturally as possible while some of the male supporters tried to create physical blocks to prevent the ultra-Orthodox men from reaching the women. Other women tried to scare the men away by getting close to them and yelling, “I’m a woman! I’m a woman!” – utilizing the ultra-Orthodox practice of not looking at or touching women that they are not married to. Look at the center left in the photos below to see where the main action is happening:

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After some tense moments and an overall joyous Torah reading, it was time to wrap the scroll back up!

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And dance!

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It was a shehecheyanu moment (a prayer said to celebrate special occasions – particularly something happening for the first time):

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Who knows what will happen at the next Rosh Hodesh Women of the Wall service (which is coming up on May 19th). I’m not sure if I will attend, but either way I suggest you check the news afterwards! For a write-up in the Times of Israel about the historic reading outlined above, see here.

Yom HaAtzmaut in Jerusalem

My last post gave a recap of the first two holidays in the period of the Yamim in Israel: Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron. The holiday that concludes the 10-day period of the Yamim is Yom HaAtzmaut – Israel’s independence day. The first 8-days of the Yamim – from Yom HaShoah to Yom HaZikaron – are incredibly sad, and the sorrow associated with these days seems to accumulate into one national day of enormous grief on Yom HaZikaron. How abrupt, then, it seems when the sun sets on Yom HaZikaron and the transition to Yom HaAtzmaut is immediate. Mourning turns into celebration, and the streets are filled with parties, dancing, and huge inflatable hammers (an odd holiday tradition). In line with the rest of Yom HaZikaron, the transition from sadness to joy is marked with a tekes (ceremony). The tekes Noah and I attended was at the Tahana Rishona, and the ceremony was led by a group of reform rabbis, interspersing prayer with song, readings, and stories.

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The tekes ended after the sun had set (and, thus, the next day – Yom HaAtzmaut – had begun), and Noah and I hit the streets with a few friends:

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I wasn’t kidding about everyone being on the streets to celebrate! I thought Purim was a big party, but that was seriously nothing compared to Yom HaAtzmaut.

Near Ben Yehuda street, we stumbled upon a huge rave of sorts with a ton of people smushed together dancing to a DJ:

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Also, the streets were full of small pop-up shops selling holiday paraphernalia and, of course, inflatable hammers!

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Noah and I bought an Israeli flag cowboy hat:

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Most of the people in the streets were wearing some sort of Israel swag and/or carrying flags, and it was fun to see some of the more clever outfits…are you rooting for this team yet? :) :

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After spending a while in the Ben Yehuda area, we made our way to Safra Square where there was another large crowd of people (basically everywhere was just one continuous large crowd with some even larger crowds collected in some areas…) :

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Safra Square had a line-up of several bands playing all night, and people were collected there from about 9pm-3am dancing and listening to music.

At midnight, there was a fireworks show that we watched from Gan HaAtzmaut (Independence Park):

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Noah and I were back home a little before 2am – which would be considered early by most! This is definitely a night for celebration!

When we woke up in the morning for Yom HaAtzmaut day, we had plans to celebrate the holiday in typical Israeli fashion: with a BBQ. We have a friend from college who is from Israel, and some of his extended family lives on a moshav about an hour from Jerusalem. They host an annual Yom HaAtzmaut BBQ, and our friend invited us. There was no messing around at this BBQ – there was freshly cooked and deliciously seasoned meat as well as a large selection of salads and sides:

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It was quite the feast!

One small anecdote that I think highlights the cultural pervasiveness and celebration connected with this holiday: in the days leading up to Yom HaAtzmaut, during the Yamim and even a bit before, Israeli flags started appearing everywhere – literally, everywhere. Buildings had flags from their balconies, windows, and along their sides:

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And many of the cars on the roads had flags attached to their windows:

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I even saw some cars with Israeli flag covers attached to the back of their side mirrors!

In some ways, it was odd how quickly and completely the transition from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut happened, and some people have told me that for families who have lost someone close/recently, it can be very psychologically difficult to feel that they need to make the transition so abruptly. At the same time, it was incredible to see what this holiday means to Israelis and what the celebration looks like here. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good 4th of July parade and BBQ, but the atmosphere in America on 4th of July is nothing compared to the feeling of complete euphoria that fills the Israeli streets on Yom HaAtzmaut. Maybe it’s a being-a-new(ish)-country thing, maybe it’s a is-my-future-secure(?) thing, maybe it’s a people-die-for-this-country-all-the-time-so-we-might-as-well-celebrate thing…I’m not sure. But I can definitely say that this was one of my absolute favorite days in Israel this year and I hope I can be in this country for the holiday in the future.

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See my post on Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron here

 

Experiencing the Yamim in Jerusalem

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, experiencing the Jewish calendar in Israel is definitely one of the most fun/special/meaningful parts of living in Jerusalem this year. The last few weeks included three important holidays: Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom HaAtzmaut. Unlike the rest of the holidays I’ve been experiencing here, these are not Jewish holidays from the Torah (or, as is the case with Hanukkah, the Mishnaic period). Rather, these are new holidays, established in the last 50-65 years. The period of the three holidays lasts 10 days, starting with Yom HaShoah and ending with Yom HaAtzmaut, and the climate of the holidays is one that goes from tragedy and sadness to joy and celebration. Collectively, the time period of the three days is called the Yamim (literally, Days). Interestingly, the 10 days of the Yamim are easily compared with the 10 days of the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur), and many view and understand the Yamim as the ‘High Holidays’ of secular Israel.

Here’s the breakdown…

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day)

Yom HaShoah was instituted in 1951 and was established as a national holiday at that time. It is an Israeli law that all shops and businesses must close the night that Yom HaShoah begins (all Jewish holidays – and days in general – begin in the evening and conclude at sunset the following day). Having been in Israel all year, I can definitely say that I felt a different mood in the city on Yom HaShoah. The feeling was serious, and even when stores and businesses opened during the day, the holiday was recognized everywhere. For example, most stores have signs recognizing the day as well as yahrzeit (memorial) candles in front:
Note: the full name of the holiday – although it is rarely called as such except on signage – is Yom HaZikaron la’Shoah  u’le’Gevurah (Remembrance Day for the Holocaust and its heroes). 

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At Pardes, we had a special schedule where we had discussions and learning options related to the Holocaust, concluding the day with a student-led memorial ceremony. The most significant part of programming for me was to hear from a Holocaust survivor, Rina:

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Rina was a child during the Holocaust, and she survived living in a ghetto as well as multiple concentration camps. She was liberated by Russian soldiers from Bergen-Belsen. Her story was heartbreaking and miraculous and yet another reminder that there are fewer and fewer survivors left to tell their stories. I believe it is so important for every person to hear as many survivors as they can before it is too late. As I heard one survivor say, “you will be the eyewitnesses to the eyewitnesses.”

The most impactful part of the day for me was hearing the siren. At 10am, across the entire country, a siren sounds (a steady wail, as opposed to the in-and-out wail used to indicate a rocket alert) for a solid minute. The moment the siren wails, everyone stands in silence in honor and memory of those who died. For me, it was an incredible moment to see the affect of the siren. I was standing by a busy road, and at the siren’s first sound, cars pulled to an immediate halt and drivers opened their doors and stood at attention next to the vehicle, pedestrians stopped where they were on the sidewalk – nothing moved. In a country that so often seems incredibly chaotic and passionate and lively, the vision was striking. Also, it was very powerful to know that across the entire country of Israel, people were doing the same thing.

I wanted to fully participate in the moment of silence with the siren, so I didn’t take any photos, but prior to the siren starting I took a photo of many people standing on the roof of a building in anticipation of seeing the great communal halt take place below:

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Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day):

A week after Yom HaShoah is Yom HaZikaron. Yom HaZikaron is the Israeli Memorial Day to commemorate fallen soldiers and victims of terror in Israel. The day was enacted into law in 1963. As I said above, when Yom HaShoah happened, I felt a noticeable degree of sadness around the city. That feeling, however, was incomparable to the feeling of  Yom HaZikaron. The unfortunate reality of the current Jewish state is that essentially no one who lives here hasn’t lost someone they know to war or terror. That reality is on full display on Yom HaZikaron. Unlike Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron has a very particular way of being observed in Israeli society. The hallmarks of Yom HaZikaron commemoration are tekesim (ceremonies). Three tekesim take place related to Yom HaZikaron: one to begin the holiday (done in the evening), one during the day (in the late morning), and one to transition to Yom HaAtzmaut (done around sundown). While Yom HaShoah only has one siren, Yom HaZikaron has two, and the sirens are used as the introduction to the erev (evening) tekes on the first night as well as the morning tekes during the day.

Noah and I went to the opening tekes of Yom HaZikaron at Latrun. Latrun is located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and it was the site of intense battle during Israel’s war for independence in 1948. Today, Latrun is a military museum and memorial. When we arrived to Latrun, there were booths set up for the event where people could look at (and sometimes hold) weapons used by the military:

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There are also over 100 tanks on display:

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There was a memorial wall listing names of fallen soldiers, and there were flowers available to be placed within the wall:

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The tekes was HUGE with a few thousand people. It took place in Latrun’s massive amphitheater:

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The tekes focused on the profiles of six individuals who had either been killed during army service or were victims of terror. For each profile, there was a video about the person, a commemorative song, and a testimony from a friend or family member. It was a very moving ceremony, and I thought the videos about the people were an interesting way to help the people attending the tekes feel somewhat more connected to that person.

Although the tekes began with a standing moment of silence in accord with the siren, the experience of this siren felt a bit less powerful to me than the one on Yom HaShoah because – since we were all already gathered for the tekes – it didn’t feel like the same sort of interruption to life.

During Yom HaZikaron day, shops once again indicated the event with signs and candles:

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The daytime morning tekesim are structured around schools, although most people who are not schoolage also attend a tekes by going to the school of their children or something that is nearby. Often, part of the tekesim focus on graduates of that school who have been killed during military service (an astounding thing when I try to imagine if every school in America would have fallen graduates to commemorate during Memorial Day). I attended a tekes at the elementary school near to my apartment. Once again, the tekes began with a siren (the second, and final siren of Yom HaZikaron and the Yamim). Seeing hundreds of elementary-age children and families be completely still and silent for the full duration of the siren was a reminder of the significance this symbol carries within Israel.

After the siren, the tekes was a collection of songs, dances, skits, and readings done by the 6th grade class. The tekes lasted about an hour – the first half was devoted to commemoration of Yom HaZikaron and the second half was festive and celebratory in line with Yom HaAtzmaut (which takes place the following day when schools are closed). The message of the transition is very clear: military lives lost enable Israel’s existence/independence.

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During the afternoon of Yom HaZikaron, I visited Har Herzl with Pardes. Har Herzl is the site of Israel’s national cemetery as well as the burial site of many important Israeli and Zionist political leaders and figures, including Theodor Herzl who is buried at the mountain’s peak and for whom the area is named. Har Herzl becomes a bit of a pilgrimage site on Yom HaZikaron when thousands of Israelis come to give their respects to fallen soldiers and sit at the gravesides of friends and family.

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We saw many people – sometimes in groups and sometimes alone – sitting by the side of a grave, appearing to be permanently there for the day. It was quite a powerful image to so vividly see this important site on memorial day. While at Har Herzl, I kept thinking (as I had also felt many times in the preceding days) that the experience of mourning for soldiers on memorial day is so different in Israel than it is in America. In Israel, where there is a compulsory draft and everyone (less the haredim and Israeli Arabs) serve in the military, there is no divide between the well-educated elite and those who serve in the military. When many Americans don’t have close relationships with army members, memorial day is often transformed into a good day to go to the mall and hit up the holiday sales. Here, where everyone knows people in the army – knows people who have died in the army – this is a day of incredible sadness. Something that highlighted this point for me was seeing Robert Aumann, an Israeli who won the Nobel Prize for Economics for his work in game theory, sitting with family at the graveside of his son who was killed during service. Given the class divide within the military that has resulted in America post-draft, it is hard for me to imagine many American Nobel Prize winners whose sons have been killed in action.

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Just as Yom HaZikaron in Israel commemorates victims of terror in addition to fallen soldiers, so does Har Herzl. A section of the cemetery is devoted to a memorial wall listing the names of all those who have died from terror attacks in Israel since 1860.

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It was frightening and sad to see the newest names recently etched into the rock – names from the time period in which I’ve been living here.

Originally, I was intending to include my Yom HaAtzmaut experience in this post as well…but this has turned into a very long post already and it feels somehow appropriate to leave the shift to celebration for a separate account and let these two somber days stand on their own.

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See my post on Yom HaAtzmaut here