Counting the Omer: Day 18 — A Day of Memorial
Rabbi Lisa Edwards
Day 18 of the omer. This year Israeli Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron, falls a day early — the 3rd of Iyar, the 18th day of the omer.* Established by the Israeli government on the day before Yom Ha-atzma’ut (Israeli Independence Day), Yom Hazikaron is a day to remember soldiers fallen in Israel’s War of Independence and ever since. It’s a moving prelude to Independence Day, to remind a nation of the wars, the deaths, the losses that brought it into existence and kept it alive.
I have been privileged to be in Israel more than once on Yom Hazikaron and experience the poignant custom of this day: 2 minutes of silence, declared throughout the land with loud sirens that bring the whole country to a halt. Cars are pulled to the side of the road as their occupants climb out and stand in silence. No matter where you are, you stop what you are doing and stand in silent attention. It’s as though each person standing in silence becomes a memorial.
Unlike the United States, in Israel there is almost no one who does not know someone (did not love someone) who died in war. This year on the 18th day of the omer, let’s count not only the day, not only time passing, but remembering that the number 18 in Hebrew is the symbol of chai (life), let’s think of those fallen soldiers and help make their lives/their deaths count by working toward a more just and peaceful world.
In BCC’s Shabbat siddur, the interpretation of the Hashkivenu prayer contains this verse: “There will come a time when morning will bring no word of war or famine or anguish.” On this 18th day of the omer, we look forward to that time of no war, no bloodshed.
A poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai: “Who will Remember the Rememberers?”
How are we to stand at memorial?
Erect or bowed down
Taut as a tent or in mournful neglect of posture,
With lowered head like a guilty person,
or head up as if in protest against death?
With wide open and frozen eyes, like the eyes of the dead
Or with eyes shut tight so that you see stars?
And what is the best time for remembering? At noon
when the shade is precisely under our feet, or at evening time
when the shadows lengthen like our longings
which have no beginning and no end – just like God?
– Yehuda Amichai [trans. adapted by William Cutter from Kronfeld and Bloch]
*Although Yom Hazikaron is normally observed on the 4th of Iyyar, it may be moved earlier or postponed if observance of the holiday (or Yom HaAtzma’ut, which always follows it) would conflict with Shabbat. In 2015/5775 Yom Hazikaron falls on the 18th day of the omer, the 3rd of Iyar.