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In Israel This Week - From Mourning to Joy

Dear Christian Leaders,

Last week, we wrote to you about the observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah. This is a solemn day of remembrance in honor of the six million Jewish men, women and children who were murdered by the Nazis simply for being Jewish. Yom HaShoah also serves as a warning concerning the terrible cost of not having a Jewish state because it reminds us all how vulnerable Jews were in the diaspora without the safe haven of the State of Israel.

This week, Israel observes two more days that are full of significance for the Jewish people. Memorial Day, or Yom HaZikaron, begins this evening, May 3rd. This day is a solemn observance in honor of those who have died in defense of the State of Israel and the civilians who have been murdered by terrorists. Commemoration ceremonies are held across the country and flags are lowered to half-mast. Yom HaZikaron is a sad reminder of the cost of having a Jewish state because of the number of people who have given their lives in defense of that state and the innocent civilians who have died at the hands of terrorists.

According to figures released by the Defense Ministry this past weekend, 56 soldiers have been killed in active service since last year's Memorial Day, and 84 disabled veterans died due to complications from injuries sustained during their service. These deaths bring the total number of those who have died in defense of Israel to 24,068. This number is extremely high relative to the total population of Israel. It is also quite significant in light of the fact that the vast majority of the population has relatives and/or close friends who have either died defending Israel or have been murdered by a terrorist.

Yom HaZikaron ends on Wednesday evening and the celebration of Independence Day, or Yom Ha'atzma'ut, begins immediately on what is the 5th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar. The juxtaposition of Memorial Day and Independence Day is a poignant reminder of the fact that Israel's national independence is directly dependent on the sacrifice of the fallen and their families. Yom Ha'atzma'ut is a day of joyous festivities in which Israelis go from the mourning of Yom HaZikaron to the joy of celebrating the existence of the Jewish State.

This year's Yom Ha'atzma'ut marks the 74th anniversary of the declaration of Israel's independence on the day the British Mandate came to an end. On the 5th of Iyar, (which was May 14th in 1948 according to the Gregorian calendar for that year), Israeli Prime Minister David ben Gurion read the proclamation of the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel.

In the picture above, Ben Gurion is seen reading the proclamation while standing under a picture of Theodor Herzl, the founder and president of the Zionist Organization and author of Der Judenstatt (The Jewish State), published in 1896. In 1897, Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress to initiate steps to establish the Jewish State. As a result, Herzl is mentioned in Israel's Declaration of Independence as the "author of the vision of the Jewish state.”

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