Memory and Independence are in our bones. Parshat Emor recounts the cycle of biblical Jewish holidays: Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret. The parsha teaches us the middah: “Pay attention to special times.” This past week, the Toronto Heschel School community was attentive to significant moments in Jewish time with modern origins. On 5 Iyyar (May 13), we observed Yom Hazikaron; on 6 Iyyar (May 14), we celebrated Yom Ha’atzma’ut. Yom Hazikaron – the Day of Remembrance – commemorates and honors those who lost their lives defending the State of Israel and upholding its way of life. Our student council Israel Affairs committee and choir led a remarkable Yom Hazikaron service, including moving testimonials, songs, and a student-choreographed dance. Each of us who attended was incredibly moved. 

The very next day, we celebrated Yom Ha’atzma’ut – Israel’s Day of Independence, learning about the Jewish connection to the Land, Israel’s remarkable capacity for innovation, and, of course, Israeli songs and food. 

Much has been said about the juxtaposition of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzma’ut. We move quickly from sadness to celebration. This year, I was struck by the connection between zikkaron – memory, and atzma’ut – independence. The word atzma’ut comes from the Hebrew word etzem, which means “bone”. There is an expression that we carry our memories in our bones. Remembering isn’t always easy, but memory strengthens us “in our bones” by providing meaning and purpose that the challenges of independence demand. 

This Shabbat, and as we continue to count the sefirat ha’omer, let us be aware of how observing the special times in our tradition stimulates our memory and strengthens our capacity for independence. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Moreh Greg