Tonight marks the start of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day — this year, by the Hebrew calendar, the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding.
To mark the occasion, we asked readers to tell us about their first visits to the Jewish state. Some of you remembered a thrilling sense of connection. Some were troubled by the young country’s military mobilization. To many, those early memories of Israel have become infinitely more complex over the years.
“I’m sure I wouldn’t recognize it now”: One reader recalled staying near Tel Aviv’s beachfront, before it was built up with ritzy hotels. Another remembered the wonder of staying in a brand-new motel, complete with air conditioning, in a barely developed Be’er Sheva. “There was a feeling of enthusiasm wherever we went,” she said, “that this new country had a future — probably not an easy one.”
“I was in shock”: Many readers first set foot in the holy land in their teens, and some said the experience challenged the ideals with which they had been raised. One remembered making “some speech about how we must pursue peace” after being handed an Uzi during an army training session.
“I would have been part of today’s protests”: As Israel reaches this pivotal anniversary while confronting unprecedented challenges to its democracy, readers questioned what it means to connect to a country in turmoil. “The optimism, naivety and ignorance I had about Israel,” one wrote, “are not the same.”
Israeli soldiers and mourners observe two minutes of silence on Tuesday at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem. (Getty)
Some Israeli ministers were met with boos when they arrived at military cemeteries on Tuesday for Memorial Day ceremonies to honor the 24,000 soldiers who have died fighting for the country. Clashes erupted outside a cemetery in Be’er Sheva after a speech by Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far right firebrand who serves as security minister. And in Tel Aviv, a Likud minister ceded his speech time to a bereaved mother whose son was killed during a military operation.
That was how Israel’s Yom Hazikaron unfolded in this unusually intense year, as the small country approached its milestone anniversary, which officially begins tonight, amid the most significant anti-government protest movement in memory. An overflow crowd of 15,000 poured into a joint Israeli-Palestinian ceremony for the bereaved whose family members have been killed on both sides of the conflict.
And, as always, a two-minute siren blast stilled residents in the streets to mark the day.
Related: The ADL said Carlson’s exit was long overdue. “Carlson has used his primetime show to spew antisemitic, racist, xenophobic and anti-LGBTQ hate to millions,” said the group’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt. Read the story ➤
Nadia Murad convinced the United Nations to recognize sexual violence as a war crime. (Getty)
Opinion | A survivor of sexual genocide seeks Nuremberg-level justice: Jewish women suffered sexual violence as far back as the pre-World War I pogroms, then at the hands of Nazis and again by Soviet soldiers who liberated them from concentration camps. These historical atrocities are getting new attention thanks to the work of Nadia Murad, who was made a sex slave by ISIS in 2014. She later won the Nobel Peace Prize. Our columnist Rob Eshman thinks Jewish and Israeli groups should support her campaign. Read his essay ➤
“Jonathan Rosen’s monumental and meaningful new book The Best Minds feels fundamentally Jewish from the first to the last of its 500-plus pages,” our editor-in-chief, Jodi Rudoren, writes in her latest column.
A gay Orthodox Jew barred from his synagogue, Hebrew school enrollment in decline, the real-life history of a plot from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and more. How well have you been following the headlines? Take our news quiz and find out.
This program is presented with the generous support of David Berg Foundation. The symposium, which is organized in partnership with the National Library of Israel, is the first installment in a larger series of public symposia sponsored by the Center for Jewish History’s brand new Jewish Public History Forum.
‘There’s no closure for us,’ said Barry Werber, who survived the Tree of Life massacre. (Benyamin Cohen)
⚖️ Lawyers began questioning potential jurors Monday in the trial of the gunman accused of killing of 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. Some questioned whether they could be impartial. “I don’t know how much more heinous it could be,” one said. (Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle)
🔎 Zooming out: “Who narrates this story, the gunman or his victims?” asks our colleague Rob Kampeas of the JTA, who is on the ground in Pittsburgh. “The community is wrestling with questions such as where and whether to put the bullet-riddled artifacts, whether to worship at the site, whether to even speak of the massacre and how and whether the gunman lives or dies.” (JTA)
😞 A Palestinian man rammed his car into a crowd at Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market on Monday, injuring five people, including a man in his 80s who is in serious condition. The attacker was shot dead at the scene. (JTA, Times of Israel)
📚 Women’s Talmud classes are back at Yeshiva University, after more than 1,400 people signed a petition to have them reinstated. The school had initially said it would not be hiring anyone to replace Rabbi Moshe Kahn, who taught many of the classes and died earlier this year. Administrators did not answer questions about which classes would be available or who would teach them. (JTA)
🤦 Stephanie Lyons, a Jewish woman in Massachusetts, found paper swastikas on her front lawn in November, and was featured in a story about antisemitism in the Washington Post. The police recently arrested a woman who was representing the father of Lyon’s child in a custody dispute. (JTA)
✍️ The forged diaries of Adolf Hitler, whose publication in the 1980s was one of the world’s greatest hoaxes, will go on display at Germany’s national archive. The 60-volume collection, produced by a petty criminal who sold it to a magazine for millions of dollars, included details about Hitler’s halitosis and his girlfriend’s puppies. (Guardian)
🗳️ Lee Zeldin, the former New York congressman and gubernatorial candidate who is now on the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition, endorsed Donald Trump for president. (JTA)
🎵 Rapper Meek Mill, who took part in the March of the Living last week, said that his visit to Auschwitz showed him “terror, pain, something you can’t really explain” and that he’ll be “spreading the word for humanity.” (CNN)
On this day in history (1953): Francis Crick and James Watson published the first scientific description of the double helix structure of DNA. Many suspected it was partially lifted from the unpublished work of Jewish biologist Rosalind Franklin. Franklin is best known for X-ray DNA diffraction images she captured while a student at King College London: “Photograph 51” of that set led to the discovery of the DNA double helix.
VIDEO OF THE DAY
The annual Eurovision singing competition begins a week from today in the United Kingdom. Noa Kirel, 22, is set to represent Israel with her song “Unicorn,” the music video of which appears above. Israel has won the competition four times, most recently in 2018.
Thanks to Matthew Litman, Sarah Nachimson, Jodi Rudoren and Talya Zax for contributing to today’s newsletter. You can reach the “Forwarding” team at email@example.com.