A time to mourn and a time to dance.

Rabbah Gila Caine

By Rabbah Gila Caine 

(AJNews) – This year, more than ever before, I need a special ceremony to help move into the Yom Ha’azmaut celebrations. The ceremony I’m thinking of gives secular – spiritual language to an aching dilemma faced by many Israelis: How do we shift between the mourning of Yom Hazikaron (the Israeli Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror) and the festivities of Yom Ha’atzmaut (the Israeli day of independence).

This year, more than ever before, how can I manage this shift?

I’ll explain: As you might know, in the Hebrew calendar the day begins at nightfall of the previous evening, hence, Shabbat enters on Friday night. There’s a wonderful passage in the Jerusalem Talmud which tries to figure out how to calculate the exact moment in which one day ends and the next begins, here’s a portion from this discussion:

“When is twilight? Rabbi Tanḥuma said (it is comparable) to a drop of blood on the tip of a sword. The drop is divided between one side and the other, that is twilight … Rabbi Yose said: “Twilight is like the blink of an eye, and the sages could not determine it.” (Jerusalem Talmud, Berakhot 1:1)

Our rabbis couldn’t determine the exact moment in which transition takes place, though we all know it happens. Day moves into night, and then into day again, woven together by liminal moments of confusion.

Returning to this moment in the Jewish calendar, Yom Hazikaron is set for the 4th of Iyar, and Yom Ha’atzmaut is on Iyar 5th. For anyone who’s ever visited Israel around this time of year, you might remember the shift in energy on the afternoon of Iyar 4, as the mood ever so slightly starts flowing from mourning to dancing.

It’s a strange and painful move, especially for those who have lost loved ones to war and terror. I cannot imagine what it will feel like this year.

In her book “From time to time: Journeys in the Jewish calendar,” Rabbi Dalia Marx writes about this moment in Jewish/Israeli Sacred Time. She reminds us that liminal moments of chaos occur when “opposites are mixed together without any hope of separating them.” She returns to the twilight midrash in the Jerusalem Talmud and explains: “…we can see that the image of blood divided between the two sides of the sword’s blade is appropriate: there is the blood of fallen soldiers and of all those who lost their lives in wars, and there is also the blood that is part of birth, growth, and flourishing that we hope for the State of Israel.” (p. 215)

This year, the tinted twilight skies echo an ongoing pain experienced by all of us since October 7. And I ask myself, how can I attain the mindset of celebration when a war is raging on Israel’s southern and northern borders, and Hamas continues to hold onto Israeli hostages (to say nothing of the Palestinian population Hamas is holding hostage in its reign of terror)? How do I create a space for joy within the overwhelming sadness and confusion?

Almost twenty years ago, members of Beit Tefilah Israeli[1] created a special Havdalah ceremony for this moment of transition to help us transcend this “blink of an eye” and make it meaningful.

Here are a few key moments from what, in my opinion, is one of the strongest pieces of Israeli ritual to have been created in the past few decades.

The rhythm of this Havdala rises from chapter 3 in Qohelet (Ecclesiastes):

Everything has a season, and a time for everything under the heaven:

……….A time to mourn and a time to dance….”

Qohelet outlines for us the very human experience of spiralling emotions, the ebb and flow of our nefesh (spirit) as we move through life. This is true for individuals as well as for nations. The full ceremony is roughly divided into three parts, though each “section” contains a few layers:



If God was not full of mercy,

Mercy would have been in the world,

Not just in Him….” (Yehudah Amichai)

The first section places us in Yom Hazikaron and within the act of mourning. It combines traditional prayers, like El Maleh Rachamim and Kaddish, with personal war memories, Israeli memorial songs, poetry and commentary on key ideas and concepts by Israeli and contemporary Jewish thinkers.


“And on the day of your gladness and at your fixed seasons and on your new moons, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over your communion sacrifices, and they shall become for you a remembrance before your God.” (Bamidbar 10:10)

The third section is all about celebration, with Psalms and songs of joy (ancient and new), with readings from Megillat Ha’atzmaut (the Israeli scroll of Independence), prayers for the peace of the state of Israel and one loud shofar blast: calling – in the sacred aspect of communal memory.


“Blessed are you Adonai, our God, who has formed human beings and created within them sadness and sighing, and happiness and joy. Blessed are you Adonai, creator of human beings…..”

The second section helps us find our way from mourning to the shofar blast of redemption, and this is where the Havdalah comes in. Havdalah, means “separation” and is the name we usually use for the prayers closing Shabbat and festivals, as we separate sanctified time from the everyday. However, havdalah echoes the act of creation itself, since God brought the world into being through many acts of intentional separation – between light and dark, water and sky, day and night.

The moment between Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut encapsulates the Jewish spirit, and embodies our ability to mourn deeply, remember with detail and live life with passion.

For many months after Oct. 7, I felt like there was no way I would ever be able to re-enter a place of joy. Food tasted like nothing, I had no interest in books or movies, the world was in a thick haze.

“….please God have mercy on us, Hear our voice that we shall not despair, That we shall see life in each other, That we shall have mercy for each other, That we shall have pity on each other, That we shall hope for each other….” (From a prayer by Sheikha Ibtisam Mahameed and Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum).

The war isn’t over, our hostages are still in Gaza, and death, destruction and chaos fill the land. But we have the power to create new life through separation. Torah teaches us that we choose life, not because everything is our choice, or because we have infinite power. We are commanded to choose life as a conscious act of defying entropy. And in this sense, this Havdalah ceremony is a strong exclamation mark punctuating our life affirming stance.

As twilight falls on Monday of May 13, gather a cup of wine, some spices and a candle and say this prayer:

My God, the soul You have placed within me is pure. You created it, You formed it, and You breathed it into me. You guard it while it is within me; some day it will return to You, and You will restore it to me in a time beyond time.

I raise the cup of redemption and call in God’s name:

Blessed are you Adonai our God, sovereign of the universe who creates the fruit of the vine.

Blessed are you Adonai our God, sovereign of the universe who creates varieties of spices.

Blessed are you Adonai our God, sovereign of the universe who creates light of fire.

Blessed are you Adonai, our God, who has formed human beings and created within them sadness and sighing, and happiness and joy. Blessed are you Adonai, creator of human beings.

Blessed are you Adonai our God, sovereign of the universe who creates the distinction between holy and holy, between darkness and light, between suffering and joy, between mourning and sacred times, between Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. Blessed are you Adonai, who creates the distinction between holy and holy.

[1] The Havdalah ceremony was created by Rabbi Esteban Gottfried, Dr. Rani Jaeger and the people at Beit Tefilah Israeli (The Israeli House of Prayer) in Tel Aviv.

Rabbah Gila Caine is the spiritual leader at Temple Beth Ora, Edmonton’s Reform Jewish Congregation. 

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