Why this year’s Yoms are different to all other Yoms

Why this year’s Yoms are different to all other Yoms

'These are days we can only hope future generations will find hard to comprehend'.

THIS “season of the Yoms” will be one that today’s young Jews will tell their grandchildren about. They’ll talk about a Pesach, a Yom Hashoah, a Yom Hazikaron, a Yom Ha’atzmaut – and an Anzac Day – that unfolded amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

Social isolation has impacted how we retold our people’s liberation from ancient Egypt, how we commemorated the Holocaust, how we’ll pay our respects to Israel’s fallen soldiers, how we’ll celebrate Israel’s 72nd Independence Day – and how we’ll mark Anzac Day.

It is a season in which we commemorate and celebrate, as Jews, as Zionists and as Australians.

From seders in a huddle and perhaps a laptop for company, to memorial candles lit in homes to match those on our screens, virtual assemblies honouring Israel’s victims of war and terror, singing and dancing in our living rooms with faraway entertainers celebrating Israel online – and rising early to watch an Anzac dawn service on TV from an empty cenotaph or shrine, these are days we can only hope future generations will find hard to comprehend.

But we can draw comfort from knowing why we are taking these extraordinary precautions – to save the lives of fellow Australians. And from this week’s more upbeat news stories on COVID-19, perhaps we can just glimpse the beginning of the end.

Yet isolation can have toxic side effects, and we must continue to ensure our more vulnerable citizens, while isolated physically, don’t suffer the burden of loneliness and anxiety this can bring. Among them are the elderly, particularly Holocaust survivors.

As child survivor Paul Valent notes in this week’s AJN, younger survivors can provide some perspective. This pandemic “is not an apocalypse, and no Second World War”, he writes. “Men are not sent to the front. They are sent home to be with their families. There will be no bombs destroying houses and facilities.”

And we can take inspiration from Corporal Issy Smith, the Jewish World War I soldier featured in this edition, who received a Victoria Cross medal for his battlefield bravery and in peace time shared his salary with the unemployed. Eighty years after his passing, he exemplifies the resolve and compassion we need for our own times.

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