Sadness to Joy as Israel Turns 67

Students Gather to Commemorate and Celebrate Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days

Yeshiva University’s annual Tekes Ma’avar, the roller coaster commemoration of Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s somber Memorial Day, transforming at night into a joyous celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, took on an added poignancy this year with Torah classes on Israel-related topics dedicated to the memory of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l, who passed away earlier this week.

Hundreds of students packed the Lamport Auditorium Wednesday night, April 22, with an atmosphere of mournful yet anticipatory tension at the start of the student-organized event. A screen displayed photos of soldiers fallen in this past summer’s war in Gaza. A siren sounded and the Israeli flag was lowered.

Rabbi Kenneth Brander, vice president for university and community life, shared his experience as a parent of an Israeli soldier, and was followed by Ethan Gipsman and Daniel Gofine, two current students who served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and members of YU’s Soldiers in Exile Club. Gofine described the selflessness of an officer he knew who was killed in Gaza and the officer’s constant refrain of the reason to fight for Israel: we have no other land.

After the lighting of a memorial candle, the Y-Studs a cappela group performed a musical tribute, Rabbi Yosef Blau, senior mashgiach ruchani at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, recited a Kel Maale – memorial prayer for fallen soldiers, and Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky, assistant dean of undergraduate Torah studies, said the prayer for members of the IDF. The flag was then raised as the program transitioned to Yom Ha’atzmaut.

“The Jewish world needs a strong Israel and Israel needs a strong Jewish world,” said Avi Mayer, the Jewish Agency’s spokesman to the international media, who delivered the keynote. Stressing the need to pray, advocate and communicate for Israel, he exhorted students to work towards fixing what is not perfect about Israel, to go there to “heal it from within but even here in YU, learn what you can do to make it better.”

In his remarks, Rabbi Meir Goldwicht, Joel and Maria Finkle Visiting Israeli Rosh Yeshiva, noted that “just as we saw the hand of God at the splitting of the sea we saw the hand of God in the drying of the swamps in Israel, the wars, the growth of Torah and hi-tech in Israel. We are part of a chain of generations and need to be united.”

After prayers and the blowing of a shofar, students proceeded to the Max Stern Athletic Center for music, dancing and food. Festivities continued on Thursday with special Yom Ha’atzmaut programming scheduled throughout the day.

“Events like this highlight YU’s uniqueness,” said YU sophomore Ari Tepler. “Thousands of students coming together to pay tribute to the soldiers and Israel is a real testament to YUs role in the Jewish community.”