In what is an emotional two days for Jews in Israel and abroad, Atlanta Jewish Academy hosted events commemorating Yom Hazikaron, Israel memorial day, and celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut, marking 71 years of the state of Israel.
Head of School Rabbi Ari Leubitz explained that proximity between these two holidays last week and Yom HaShoah, Holocaust remembrance day a week earlier, is an important cycle.
“You don’t fully appreciate something until you have to work for it. Things that are happenstance aren’t truly meaningful,” he said.
He explained that the transition between the holidays was a significant journey.
“To go through the experience of understanding what people who gave up their lives in the Shoah and people who were victims of terror and in the Army, and then to be brought all together to celebrate a country that is a democratic country, that can value differences of opinion, that can have multiple religions, that’s everything that we stand for, it’s the heartbeat of a Jew.”
For Yom Hazikaron, the eighth grade led a program for parents, faculty and students grades three through 12. In that ceremony, those with family and friends serving in the Israel Defense Forces lit memorial candles for those who have fallen.
The program concluded with the singing of “Hatikvah,” and a ceremonial lowering of the Israeli flag outside the school.
For Yom Ha’atzmaut, programming was an all-day event, something that was especially important to Leubitz.
“We believe that for students to connect to the land of Israel, we want immersive experiences,” he said. “Throughout the year they have programming, but this is a day that is different and that you remember for the rest of your life.”
Kicking off first thing in the morning, students in first through sixth grades learned about Israeli innovation and athletes, and there was a particular focus on the Israeli Beresheet spacecraft, which crash-landed on the moon April 11.
Their learning took any number of interactive forms, including Olympic-themed obstacle courses, building model irrigation systems and launching rockets with vinegar and baking soda.
Younger students took a “trip” to Israel, hopping on a simulated plane and experiencing some of the many sites. For example, in Jerusalem they visited the Kotel, and in Karmiel—a northern city known for its dance festival—students tried folk dancing.
Meanwhile the upper school celebrated with a special lunch put together by students and had various activities all day, including a scavenger hunt.
The day concluded by uniting AJA’s many students, with faculty and Atlanta Jewish community leaders in an assembly, during which students showed off their litany of talents, performing songs, dances and skits, all focused on Israel’s diverse identity.
The seventh grade led the way with the daglanut, the flag dance, accompanied by participants from the first, second, third and fifth grades as well as upper-schoolers.
Some of the school’s oldest students filmed a mock newscast complete with live correspondence, in which the question was posed: Who is the ultimate Israeli?
Speaking to fellow students representing some of Israel’s many citizens, from kibbutz workers to innovators, religious leaders to new immigrants, the conclusion was that each and every one was central to Israel’s complex identity.
Leubitz wrapped up the Yom Ha’azmaut ceremony by again harkening back to three weeks of varied holidays.
“We have been on a roller coaster of emotions,” he said. “We put together a program for Yom HaShoah. We hugged, we cried and we reflected together, … and it all culminated here today with Yom Ha’atzmaut.”