Dearly Beloved in Yeshua,
April: Joy and Sadness
The month of April on the Gregorian calendar (Iyar, Ee-yar, on the Hebrew calendar) is filled with memorial days and days of celebration—happy and sad days—a mixture like so much else in Judaism, e.g. breaking a glass at the end of the marriage ceremony (joy) to remember the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (sadness). An old familiar song begins: “Though April showers may come your way, they bring the flowers that bloom in May…”
Passover this year, actually the Feast of Unleavened Bread, ends on the evening of Sunday, April 4. But that is just the beginning of the April commemorations and celebrations. Some, but not all, are observed by Jewish people in the U.S.
A Sad Day: April 8, 2021
Thursday, April 8, 2021, is Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. Also known as Yom HaShoah (Yohm Ha-SHOW-ah), this is a day of commemorating the lives and heroism of Jewish people who died in the Holocaust between 1933 and 1945. Shoah is the Hebrew word for “disaster” or “catastrophe.” The word shoah appears in the Bible more than a dozen times always signifying complete and utter destruction. The word Holocaust comes from the Greek holos and kostos, “totally burnt” or “sacrifice by fire.” The core meaning of the term is an animal sacrifice totally burnt on an altar.
The murder of six million Jewish men, women, and children by the Nazi regime and its collaborators was the result of lies. We know that the father of lies, hasatan, the accuser, the devil, is the enemy of God and His people (Jn. 8:44). He is the one who fuels anti-Semitism, which encompasses anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hatred. The Nazis deemed Jews to be “inferior,” “racially impure.” This lie also applied to other groups, e.g. Gypsies, the disabled, and some Slavic peoples.
Satan continues to lie about the Jews, the people who gave the world the One who would crush him: Yeshua, the Messiah. Anti-Semitism is alive and well and proliferating worldwide, spreading online like a cancer. FBI findings in 2020 showed that 60% of religious-based hate crimes targeted Jews, even though Jews represent just 2% of our nation’s population.
As Jewish people in Israel and the U.S. observe Yom HaShoah, lighting memorial candles and saying the Mourner’s Kaddish, the memorial prayer for departed loved ones, they are aware that the last remaining survivors of the Holocaust are now in their eighties, nineties, and beyond. According to a Vision for Israel newsletter, there are 179,600 Holocaust survivors living in Israel today. 17% of them are over 90 years old. 850 of them are 100 years or older! Their stories have been documented as a testimony to the truth in the face of holocaust deniers who say that there never was a “Holocaust.” People are still willing to believe a lie.
Jews are still demonized in our day. We may have vaccines to stop the pandemic, but there is no vaccine to eradicate history’s oldest hate—anti-Semitism. In an article by FLAME (Facts and Logic about the Middle East), the following facts were published at the end of 2020: The BDS (Boycotts, Am Yisrael Chai! The people of Israel live! Divestments, and Sanctions) movement is as dangerous as ever, Black Lives Matter is as anti-Semitic as ever, calls for an end to the Jewish state are still running in mainstream media, promises from Iran and Turkey to destroy Israel continue, attacks on Israel by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are as brutal as ever, four anti-Semites got re-elected to the U.S. Congress, and Israel and the Jews have been blamed for Covid-19. Very sad.
There’s more. Anti-Israel hate attacks on college campuses were up 70% last year. FLAME commented on the U.N.’s hatred of Israel: “For decades, Israel has suffered humiliation, backstabbing, and outright Jew-hatred in the U.N. Just this past year, the U.N. voted to condemn Israel in 18 resolutions, compared with just 7 resolutions against nations like Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Myanmar.” The World Jewish Congress, in commenting on the dangerous resurgence of anti-Semitic violence, vandalism, and rhetoric in the U.S. and abroad, concludes: “As long as one Jew is in danger, all Jews are in danger.” As for the Holocaust, we must all take a stand and say, “Never Again!” Pray! “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).
Another Sad Day: April 13-14, 2021
The Hebrew month Iyar begins with a national observation or remembrance in Israel called Yom HaZikaron (Yohm Ha-Zeek-ah-ROHN). Yom (Yohm) is the Hebrew word for day. Zikron (zeek-ROHN) is Hebrew for remembrance or memorial, and comes from zikra (zeek-RAH), remember. This day is Israel’s Memorial Day, its official remembrance day since 1963. Yom HaZikaron is a day dedicated to Israel’s fallen soldiers. In recent years the commemoration has been extended to civilian victims of terrorism.
My own Memorial Day memories are joyful rather than sad. My Salvation Army relatives came to our home each year for a barbecue, after attending a ceremony at Kensico Cemetery to honor their fellow soldiers who had fought in the war for souls. They had been “promoted to Glory” and were saluted with trumpets and eulogies. Sad, yet joyful. But in Israel, without the assurance of eternal life through the Messiah Yeshua, there is no hope, only memories. Since Israel is such a small country, no family is untouched by the loss of a family member or friend through either war or terrorism—a national sadness. Over 10% of Israel’s population suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, three times greater than the number in the U.S.
If you search Google and ask, “Is there terrorism in Israel?” you will find that in its entire history, Israel has not known a single day free from terrorism or the threat of terrorism. Many organizations have been started to aid victims of terror (terror or violence in Hebrew is hamas, ha-MAHS).
Israelis observe their Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron, according to the Hebrew understanding of zakar. This is expressed nicely in an article by Chad Bird of 1517 Ministries, “The One Hebrew Word You Don’t Want to Forget,” Aug. 20, 2016: “To zakar is not merely to rifle through the files in your head until you find the fact you’ve been searching for. To zakar is to empty your hands and feet and lips to engage in whatever action that remembrance requires.” In other words, biblical remembering is a body activity, not merely a head activity. (When God “remembers,” He “acts.”)
Israelis take action on Yom HaZikaron. Two sirens are sounded throughout the country, calling all Israel to attention. A one minute siren will be sounded at 8:00 P.M. on April 13, 2021, and a two minute siren will be sounded at 11:00 A.M. on April 14, 2021. When the sirens sound, all activity throughout the country comes to a standstill. People get out of their cars in the middle of the highway out of respect for their fellow countrymen who have perished in wars against the Jewish State. Israelis are still and silent the entire length of the siren in order to experience the impact of an entire nation honoring those who died to gain and preserve Israel’s freedom.
Zakar also includes remembering through various types of ceremonies: flags at half-mast, the closing of places of entertainment, memorial candle lighting, wreath-laying, poetry readings, music, and reading the names of the fallen.
A Joyful Day: April 14-15, 2021
Yom HaZikaron is immediately followed by the joyful holiday of Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Yohm Ha-Ahts-mah-OOT), Israel’s Independence Day. Israel goes from heartbreak to joy within 24 hours. Neil and I were in Jerusalem on Yom Ha’Atzmaut and joined Israelis dancing in the streets. I was reminded of Psalm 30:11, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.” Yom HaZikaron paves the way for Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Israeli soldiers died to secure Israel’s Independence in 1948. To facilitate the emotional transition from the sadness of Yom HaZikaron to Yom Ha’Atzmaut, the people of Israel observe a state ceremony at Mount Herzl, Israel’s military cemetery, also known as Har haZikaron.
Yom Ha’Atzmaut is the largest national festival in Israel. Eighty-five percent of the country do not have to go to work the next day. In most years, there are military bands and parades, flag ceremonies, dancing and live music at the Kotel (the Western Wall), mass sing-alongs, public folk dancing, parties throughout Israel, streets filled with live shows, cotton candy, and corn stands, and fireworks in every city. This year? Israel sadly is still on some degree of lockdown. Festivities may be drastically curtailed or even cancelled. I imagine there will still be fireworks and intimate barbecues with family and friends. Will the annual Bible quiz competition be held? Not sure. But the highlight of the cross-country fly over of military jets and helicopters will probably occur in spite of the pandemic.
In case you are confused about dates, the Gregorian date for the proclamation of Israel’s independence is not April 14, but rather May 14, 1948. On this day, David ben Gurion publicly read the Proclamation of the Establishment of the State of Israel and the end of the British Mandate in Israel. Israel celebrates according to its own, lunar calendar.
Unfortunately, there is an Arabic word for what Israelis celebrate on Yom HaAtzmaut: Nakba. This means “the disaster” or “the catastrophe.” What exactly happened in 1948? Israel’s statehood was proclaimed at midnight on May 14, 1948. A military coalition of seven Arab states invaded the newborn nation in the morning of May 15, 1948. Against all odds, after nine months, three weeks, and two days, the Israelis defeated their Arab enemies. Thousands of Palestinians fled their homes during the conflict and became refugees. The large Arab nations surrounding Israel refused to absorb them, and Israel is blamed today for a Palestinian refugee problem.
In spite of this sad situation, Israel deserves to be celebrated as the only real democracy in the Middle East. I marvel at Israel’s accomplishments and her contributions to not only Jewish life but to the world in general. Consider the following Israeli inventions in 2020: an AR-headset that uses X-ray vision technology, a fit-and-fold car booster seat, a custom-made guide to cancer trials, an electric urban vehicle, a sugar-like product, and an automated beehive. (Beehome is earth’s first autonomous beehive. It is a device that houses 24 colonies allowing beekeepers to remotely treat their hives and care for their bees.)
Let us all wish Israel a happy birthday. She and I are the same age, so I tend to remember her Independence Day. I learned this year that the Shabbat between Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’Atzmaut has a name: Shabbat Tekuma, the Shabbat of Revival. “Revival” refers to the dramatic turnaround from the tragedy of the Holocaust to the realization of the dream of a Jewish State.
Another Joyful Day: April 25-26, 2021
Another joyful celebration happens near the end of the month of Iyar, the second month on the biblical Jewish calendar, after Nisan. This is the holiday of Pesach Sheni (PAY-sock Sheh-KNEE), Second Passover. It occurs every year on the 14 day of Iyar, exactly one month after 14 of Nisan, the beginning of the Passover holiday. The source of this second Passover is found in Numbers 9:10-12, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If anyone of you or your posterity is unclean because of a corpse, or is far away on a journey, he may still keep the LORD’S Passover. On the fourteenth day of the second month, at twilight, they may keep it. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break one of its bones. According to all the ordinances of the Passover they shall keep it.‘” In the Mishnah, Pesach Sheni is referred to as Pesach Katan (Pay-SOCK Kah-TAHN, Minor or Little Passover).
While Pesach Sheni is not a holiday for everyone, it is a second chance for those who need one. Our God is a God of second chances! Since Pesach Sheni is celebrated during the connecting month of Iyar, after Nisan and before Sivan, it is considered a month of healing. Being given a second chance is certainly healing. Iyar is also a month of preparation, since it was during this month that Israel was getting ready for the events of Mt. Sinai and the giving of the Torah (Shavuot, Weeks, Pentecost).
We, as Messianic Jews, can certainly celebrate Pesach Sheni if our calendar (or spiritual state), warrants it. We would certainly agree with the Chabad (Orthodox) rabbis who say that the day represents the “second chance” achieved by teshuvah (teh-shoe-VAH), repentance, the power of “return.” Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak said, “The Second Passover means that it’s never a ‘lost case.'” When we consider that the New Covenant fulfillment of Passover is the Lord’s Seder or “Communion,” Pesach Sheni reminds us of the forgiveness and new beginning purchased for us by the blood of the Eternal Passover Lamb, Yeshua. We have the promise of 1 John 1:9 through our Messiah: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Repentance. Return. Forgiveness. Joy.
Do you need a second chance? Do you feel that you have failed God or gone beyond the limits of His forgiveness? Take heart. This is the month that the Lord longs to turn your sadness into joy. Jew or Gentile, believer or pre-believer, the truth of Isaiah 55:7 applies to you: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” Notice the word “abundantly.” One drop of the blood of God’s Son, the Messiah, can give even the vilest sinner forgiveness if he repents and turns from that sin. “He will abundantly pardon” in Hebrew is: “yar-beh lis-lo-ah.” Our God is Gracious!
May the Lord give the U.S. another chance to return to Him and the principles of the Bible upon which we were founded. May we all take a stand for righteousness, for life, and for justice, in Yeshua’s name.
A Final Joyful Day: April 29-30, 2021
Lag B’Omer (Lahg B’OH-mer) is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer. The omer, a measure of barley, was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem daily from the second day of Passover until Shavuot. This was based on the command in the Torah to count 49 days from the 16th of Nisan until Shavuot (Deut. 16:8-10; Lev. 23:15-16).
One tradition for the origin of Lag B’Omer is that it is the day on which the plague that killed Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 disciples came to an end. How about that? A holiday to mark the end of a plague? Abba, give us a Lag B’Omer! In Israel, this holiday is celebrated as a symbol of the fighting Jewish spirit. We have seen that there is both mourning and joy in the period from Passover to Shavuot. On Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, all restrictions of mourning are lifted. As a result, the day is marked by weddings, parties, parades, music, picnics, and bonfires throughout Israel. Two unusual customs include three-year-old boys getting their first haircut and activities with bows and arrows. April ends with lots of joy. Lord willing, Covid-19 will be vanquished so the celebrations can continue.
Love in the God who has always been our Hope,