By Jamie Weissman
Brought together by strong support and passion for Israel, students at this university honored both Israel’s Independence Day and Day of Remembrance this past month.
On April 15, students gathered at Hillel for a night of remembrance and celebration. Starting at 7 p.m., about 250 attendees witnessed a ceremony to honor Yom Hazikaron, or Israeli Memorial Day, which included videos and speeches about people who lost family and friends who were soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces, as well as a speech by a former soldier himself.
“The ceremony was emotional and inspiring,” said Melissa Fuhrman, a sophomore Jewish studies major who helped organize the event.
Sophomore hearing and speech sciences major Brigitte Smith agreed, explaining, “I went to Hillel’s memorial service for Yom Hazikaron not only because I have been attending a tekes every year but also because I feel a very big personal connection to this day,” she said. “I myself had a friend in the Israeli army who was killed and it was really comforting listening to the stories of other University of Maryland students who shared the same pain.”
The ceremony included performances by three Jewish a capella groups and concluded with the Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem.
“I thought the three a capella groups did a great job performing and setting the mood for a sad day. I couldn’t be in Israel this year but the service at University of Maryland’s Hillel gave me the environment to remember David and feel that connection,” Smith said.
To transition from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha’ atzmaut, or Israel Independence Day, the event coordinators organized a ceremony. The ceremony invited five students who are making aliyah, or moving to Israel, to come up before the crowd and light a torch and explain why they chose to make aliyah.
“Remembrance Day transitions into Independence Day. We celebrate Israel and what we have,” said sophomore community health major Tatiana Hasson, who also organized the event.
After the transitional ceremony, guests continued on to a celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut. Festivities included Israeli snacks and dancing, as well as a DJ spinning Israeli music. The Orthodox community on campus participated as well and read prayers at the event.
“I had a fun time dancing to the Israeli music and eating the Israeli food,” Smith said.
Smith is not the only one who seemed to have fun.
“I got all positive reactions,” said Hasson, who added that some students told her it was the best remembrance ceremony they had been to.
Although the celebrations proved to be a success for students this year, Smith hopes it will become even bigger next year.
“Next year, I would like to see something go down on the Mall. Something to make all of Maryland know that it’s Israel’s birthday, not just the kids that go to Hillel.”
The celebrations may grow if Hasson has anything to do with it. For Hasson, who worked on the celebration for the second time this year, the holiday is just as important as any other.
“I just think a message to send to students is that even though we are not in Israel, it’s still important as Jews that we support the country and that we still celebrate it and remember it,” she said. “It is the Jewish state. We still belong to it.”