The Only Jewish Holiday we celebrate twice a Year
Yom HaAliyah features twice on the Israeli calendar? Unfortunately, olim (or every natural-born Israeli) don't get the day off work either day but the contribution made by olim is clearly significant.
Yom HaAliyah (Aliyah Day) (Hebrew: יום העלייה) is an Israeli national holiday celebrated annually according to the Jewish calendar on the tenth of the Hebrew month of Nisan to commemorate the Jewish people entering the Land of Israel as written in the Hebrew Bible, which happened on the tenth of the Hebrew month of Nisan (Hebrew: י' ניסן). This year it was Sunset, 3 April –nightfall, 4 April, 2020 when we were under our National Lockdown, so it was easily forgotten
The holiday was also established to acknowledge Aliyah, immigration to the Jewish state, as a core value of the State of Israel, and honor the ongoing contributions of Olim, Jewish immigrants, to Israeli society.
The 2nd celebration takes place on 7 Cheshvan (this Sunday, October 25, 2020) so that schools will have an opportunity to teach the students about the relevance of this day. On the 10th of Nisson, schools are not usually in session for the Passover holiday.
On the first date, the original calendar date was chosen for Yom HaAliyah, the tenth of Nisan, is laden with symbolism. Although a modern holiday created by the Knesset of Israel, the Tenth of Nisan is a date of religious significance for the Jewish People as recounted in the Hebrew Bible and in traditional Jewish thought. On the tenth of Nisan, according to the biblical narrative in the Book of Joshua, Joshua leading the Israelites crossed the Jordan River at Gilgal into the Promised Land while carrying the Ark of the Covenant. It was thus the first documented "mass Aliyah." On that day, G-d commanded the Israelites to commemorate and celebrate the occasion by erecting twelve stones with the text of the Torah engraved upon them. The stones represented the entirety of the Jewish nation's twelve tribes and their gratitude for God's gift of the Land of Israel. The 10th of Nisan is also significant as it was the first Shabbat HaGadol that took place five days before the Israelites left Egypt beginning The Exodus. This is also the date that Moses's sister Miriam died and according to the Biblical narrative her well that miraculously traveled with the Israelites through the desert dried up (Numbers 20:1–2).
The tenth of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which is the first month according to the ordering of the Hebrew calendar, is referenced in association with Aliyah multiple times within the Biblical text.
And Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, Observe all of the commandments that I command you this day. And it will be, on the day that you cross the Jordan to the Land the Lord, your God, is giving you, that you shall set up for yourself huge stones, and plaster them with lime. When you cross, you shall write upon them all the words of this Torah, in order that you may come to the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, God of your forefathers, has spoken to you. -Deuteronomy 27:1–3
It was no accident that the second date of the 7th of Cheshvan, was chosen to mark the Aliyah Day. It is on this week every year that we read Parshat Lech Lecha in synagogue on Shabbat. It is in this Torah portion that Abraham hears the divine call to leave the land of his birth and forge a new path to the land of Israel.
Yom HaAliyah, as a modern holiday celebration, began in 2009 as a grassroots community initiative and young Olim self-initiated movement in Tel Aviv, spearheaded by the TLV Internationals organization of the Am Yisrael Foundation. On June 21, 2016, the Twentieth Knesset voted in favor of codifying the grassroots initiative into law by officially adding Yom HaAliyah to the Israeli national calendar.
The phenomenon of aliyah, which means to “arise to Israel,” however is not a modern idea. It began nearly 4,000 years ago.
Under divine command, Abraham, (yes the same Abraham of the new Abraham Accords) the patriarch of the Jewish nation was called to “leave thy country, and thy people, and thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show you” as it states in the book of Genesis. He embarked on a long journey, a journey that has not yet come to an end.
It is not at all simple to leave a land of plenty and come to a land that seems lacking. However Abraham’s complete faith in making this huge step has deepened within our people the importance of taking this step ourselves. The essence of our life is here and this is where we can fulfill the aspiration to establish a “model society” as described by the Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl.
Throughout history, no other people have held so strongly to the memory of their homeland no matter what country they lived in. With prayer books in front of their eyes, Jews have been praying for thousands of years facing the direction of Jerusalem. Despite not living in the land, Jews have always studied the laws that pertain to the land such as shmittah and the Jubilee year. Every year the Passover seder ends with the words “next year in rebuilt Jerusalem.”
The renewed Zionist idea contains two basic concepts which cannot be separated: immigration and resettlement.
As Theodor Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization wrote, “throughout the long night of their exile, Jews have never ceased dreaming of their kingdom. We read ‘next year in Jerusalem’ throughout all generations. Now the time has come to make that dream a reality.”
Yom HaAliyah, or Aliyah Day, reinforces the right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. This date reminds us that despite the expulsion of the majority of the Jewish people from their homeland nearly 2,000 years ago, they remained faithful to the land throughout their Dispersion.
With the development of the State of Israel and its prosperity, the procedure of aliyah and absorption has improved beyond recognition. The transit camps were replaced by apartments, poverty was replaced by an Absorption Basket, and language difficulties were replaced by the Hebrew Ulpan system.
From refugees of the Spanish Inquisition to those escaping the hardships in Africa and survivors from war-torn Europe steeped in blood, Israel has become the home of the Jewish people from all different walks of life.
In this new/old land, we have seen a new generation of scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, military experts, lawmakers, intellectuals, and religious leaders from countless different countries. They are now all part of this innovation nation called the State of Israel where immigrants from around the world share their talents in development, economics, high-tech, and medical breakthroughs.
Aliyah as a core value of the State of Israel can be seen in its national anthem, Hatikvah, "The Hope", which was adapted from a poem by the 19th-century Jewish poet, Naftali Herz Imber.
“As long as in the heart, within, A Jewish soul still yearns, And onward, towards the ends of the east, an eye still gazes toward Zion;
Our hope is not yet lost, The hope two thousand years old, To be a free nation in our land, The land of Zion and Jerusalem.”
Honoring Aliyah has also been at the core of the State of Israel's religious sector. The Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel is a prayer said in many Jewish synagogues on Shabbat and on Jewish holidays, both in Israel and around the globe. The prayer requests divine providence for the State of Israel, its leaders, and that God helps with Aliyah, namely that still exiled Jewish People be gathered back into the Land of Israel.
...Remember our brethren, the whole house of Israel, in all the lands of their dispersion. Speedily bring them to Zion your city, to Jerusalem, dwelling of your name, as it is written in the Torah of your servant Moses: ‘Even if your exiles are at the end of the heavens, the Lord, your God, will gather you from there, and He will take you from there. And the Lord, your God, will bring you to the land which your forefathers possessed, and you too will take possession of it, and He will do good to you, and He will make you more numerous than your forefathers.’ -Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel
The prayer was instituted in 1948 by the Sephardic and Ashkenazic Chief Rabbis of the newly formed State of Israel, respectively Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel and Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog with assistance by Nobel laureate Shmuel Yosef Agnon.
So as I wish you a Happy Aliyah Day on Sunday for the second time this year, I close with a story from the land of Israel:
Chaim Epstein opened the Jewish paper and was dumbfounded to read in the obituary column that he had died. He quickly phoned his best friend Shmulik.
"Did you see the paper?" asked Chaim Yankel. "They say I died!"
"Yes, I saw it!" replied Shmulik. "Where are you calling from?"