By: Ilana Kisilinsky  | 

Yeshiva University Celebrates the “Yoms”

On May 1, the Yeshiva University student body gathered for what is perhaps its largest annual event, the Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut ceremony.  Yom Hazikaron is a day of remembrance for fallen soldiers and victims of terror.  It is celebrated on the day before Yom Haatzmaut as a reminder of what was sacrificed to gain the freedom of independence.  The ceremony was a display of the challenge of living as a Zionist Jew in Diaspora and still finding a connection with the State of Israel from afar.

“This is an important event to have at YU,” said Beth Gindi, a senior at Stern College and a member of the planning committee for this event. “There are so many different groups and types of people here, and the days of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut are days that everyone can relate to in different ways.”  This is a ceremony that begins with reflections on the past and those who have been lost, shifting to the celebration of liberty and the hope for the future.  

The event was organized by a committee of students from both the men’s and women’s campuses, working for months to ensure the ceremony’s success.

The ceremony started with a moment of silence and the sounding of the siren that plays throughout the State of Israel on Yom Hazikaron.  The Lamport Auditorium, where the ceremony was held, was filled with over 1,000 students, alumni, and faculty, all there to pay their respects and celebrate this incredible day.

Raffi Wiesen, a former IDF soldier and current student at Yeshiva College, spoke about his time in the army and the difficulties of being a lone soldier. “When you grow up in Israel, the army is a major part of the culture and with that everyone knows what goes on and understands the lingo,” he said. “Americans have no idea; they don’t understand the culture, the language, the process and procedure, which makes it all the more difficult to explain yourself.” He continued with stories and experiences that he would never forget, explaining situations that civilians would never be able to understand. At the end of his speech he touched on the sensitive topic of the distance between Diaspora Jews and IDF soldiers. “Too many times when we hear about someone serving in the army we validate them and say what they are doing is very nice but we miss something, we miss the fact that these are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, these are our friends.  These soldiers are so much more than we realize. And today we take the opportunity to think about that.”

The ceremony took an emotional swing with a slideshow of Ezra Schwartz and a speech from his mother Ruth remembering him. Schwartz was a student studying at Yeshivat Ashreinu in Beit Shemesh, who was murdered during a Palestinian terrorist attack on his way to volunteer in a park near Alon Shvut. “Yom Hazikaron is a special day, last year I was in Israel… it was a hard day, an exhausting day, and an emotional day but it was a powerful day as well.  I was able to step out of my own grief and grieve for others.  That day taught me that my family was not alone, that tragedy is everywhere, that nobody is immune, that I need to fight for my family to be strong.”  Mrs. Schwartz continued to thank the friends and family that still continue to help her and her family to this day and the outpouring of love and support she has seen from people all over the world.  “I am lucky to be Ezra’s mother. I cherish the time he was with me.  Ezra was a special person with a good heart he enjoyed life and wanted to have fun. He was a wonderful son, an amazing brother, and a great friend.”  

Candles were lit, prayers were said, songs were sung, and Yom Hazikaron ended. It was time to step out of mourning and into celebration.  The Y-Studs, an all-male acapella group, gave a rousing upbeat performance of “Hashem Melech” allowing the audience to shed their sadness and begin to rejoice. “These days are inherently and purposely linked to one another,” said Shayna Michalowsky, the PR secretary for Stern’s student council, as she introduced the keynote speaker, Jerry Silverman, the CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America.  “To celebrate the existence of the state without commemorating or appreciating the lives we lost along the way would be a superficial celebration, devoid of true meaning and emotion…. The nature of these days’ demands that they stay together.”

Rabbi Meir Goldwicht, who spoke in hebrew, gave words of inspiration and Torah, which was then followed by the prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel, Hatikva, and a festive Ma’ariv filled with singing and happiness.  

Many of the students were happy with the programming “The tekes was really emotional, said Chaviva Friedman a junior at Stern College.  “You could tell that people were there because they wanted to be involved with YU, they wanted to be involved with the state of Israel.” Others felt that although the ceremony was good, it could have been even better. “Overall I thought the tekes did a decent job at celebrating the emotional transition from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Haatzmaut.  I think the University’s chagigot and programming help cultivate the spirit and joy of the day,” said Nolan Edmonson, a sophomore at Yeshiva College. “I did think, however, that at least one of the speeches at the tekes was unnecessary but it in no took away from the enjoyment of the day.”

The “Yoms,” as they are colloquially referred to by YU students, had been planned and organized for seven months by a committee of students from both the women’s and men’s campuses.  “The event took about seven months of planning and working together as a committee,” said Raffi Wiesen, who, in addition to being one of the day’s speakers, was also a member of the “Yoms” committee.  “Each of us on the committee gave our all and turned all our ideas into an amazing two days and a particularly amazing tekes.  We wanted to focus the tekes on the individuals, who they were as people, actualize them as individuals who have personalities and interests.  Doing that we hoped more people would be able to be affected and moved.”