Over 5000 Participants Attend OU Israel’s Yom Ha’Atzmaut Celebration in Jerusalem

27 Apr 2023

Annual Musical Tefila for Anglo Olim and Visitors a Signature OU Israel Event

Over 5000 people of all ages celebrated Israel’s milestone 75th birthday on Tuesday night, at OU Israel’s signature Yom Ha’Atzmaut event at Jerusalem’s Gan Hapaamon (Liberty Bell Park).

Since its inception in 2017, the annual Musical Tefila (prayer) featuring renowned singer Rabbi Shlomo Katz has seen a steady increase in attendance of olim (immigrants to Israel), tourists and students spending their gap-year at yeshivot (institutes of advanced Talmudic learning) and seminaries, who unite on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day to kick-off festivities and express gratitude for the State of Israels creation through spirited prayer. 

“The event is an absolute highlight of the calendar year,” said Seymour J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center Program Director Rabbi Sam Shor. “We feel blessed to be able to bring this incredible evening of chizuk and community to fruition. It is unique in that the tefila (prayer) is unparalleled in terms of ruach (spirit), and it is hosted by OU Israel, which has a significant impact on Anglo olim in Jerusalem and beyond throughout the entire year.”

Rabbi Katz, who is spiritual leader of Efrat’s Shirat David synagogue, led a prayer service similar to those commonly held at Israeli Hesder yeshivot (schools that combine Talmudic studies with military service in the Israel Defense Forces) that included several psalms of praise, Maariv (evening prayer), Hallel (a joyous prayer of thanksgiving recited on Jewish holidays), and counting of the omer (a verbal counting of each of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot). The celebration was punctuated by singing, dancing and the blowing of the shofar.

The evening included remarks by Rabbi Sam Shor, OU Israel Executive Director Rabbi Avi Berman, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Arieh King and OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer. 

“This event is for the thousands of you — the Anglo community, the North Americans — who have made the move here, to the place where all of our hearts and all of our efforts are directed,” said Rabbi Hauer. “It is the Orthodox Union’s mission to make sure that our presence is one of not just geographical closeness to Makom HaMikdash (the sacred place) but of closeness and strengthening of the relationship, heart and soul, to our faith, to Torah and mitzvot,” said Rabbi Hauer. “There is no better expression of that than to bring together the North American olim who have already made the move here and those of of us who are visiting and… determining how we can take our next steps, in a framework of sincere prayer, of turning towards God, and expressing gratitude to Hashem for this incredible history of our time.”

OU Israel Executive Director Rabbi Avi Berman said: “We had Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) today, thanking our soldiers, thanking our civilians that gave their lives for this incredible state. We’re here thanking God for the incredible miracle that’s called the State of Israel, that’s leading the world in everything; where we see the prophecies coming to fruition, where we see the Jewish people gathering together in the land of Israel. It’s our chance to say, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you God.’”

Also in attendance were OU President Mitchel Aeder, OU Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph, Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary Rosh Yeshiva and OU Kosher Senior Posek (legal scholar) Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Senior Scholar at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, who is an OU Honorary Governor and Jewish Action Editorial Board Member, and OU Kosher Chief Executive Officer Rabbi Menachem Genack.   

Said Rabbi Dr. Joseph: “I cried twice today. Once for what and who we have lost. And once for the amazing land and people we have, celebrating our State and our state of mind. Admittedly, I love to pray and sing and dance. But doing so at the OUs Israel Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebration with thousands? With the Rosh Yeshiva Rav Schachter? With leaders of organizations and major rabbis from across the world? With kids and teens and families and retirees? And with Rabbi Shlomo Katz? We were all elevated to the next level.”

One oleh who regularly attends OU Israel’s annual Yom Ha’Atzmaut program and derives tremendous value from his connection with OU Israel is Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, who made Aliyah in 2017 with his wife Barbara from Englewood, New Jersey. Rabbi Goldin served as the spiritual leader of Congregation Ahavath Torah for 33 years, is a published author, a popular author on OU.Torah.org and former president of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the worlds largest association of Orthodox rabbis. Today, Rabbi Goldin said he is honored to be an OU Israel faculty member and feels enriched by his interactions with the participants of his weekly Torah portion class.

“The Yom Hatzmaut program run by OU Israel has been unbelievably inspiring over the past few years,” said Rabbi Goldin. “Its been the highlight of my celebration of the day. I am deeply impressed by the manifold, wide-ranging programs sponsored by OU Israel that just continue to grow in quality and quantity.”

Meira and Reuven Pittenger made Aliyah in 2021 from Charlotte, North Carolina with their eight children, ages 2 to 14. In 2022, they became life members of OU Israel, which they said feels like their extended family because of the sense of community it provides.  

“OU Israel is the first place we turn to for fun family events,” said Reuven. “It offers English speakers in Israel just about anything you would want to do, such as a ladies’ creative writing program and trips to places in the Tanach (Torah, Prophets and Writings) has a summer camp in the Golan, activities like matzah-baking for younger kids, and very serious classes presented by world-renowned speakers.”

As in past years, the Pittengers left this year’s OU Israel Yom Ha’Atzmuat event on a tremendous high.

“The purpose of Yom HaAtzmaut is to be grateful to Hashem for living here in Israel at this special time,” said Reuven. “No group captures this spirit better than OU Israel. To be able to say Maariv and sing Hallel with Rabbi Shlomo Katz jamming on guitar and singing along with hundreds of your new best friends?  Wow. With the OU Israels Yom HaAztmaut event, there is nothing like locking arms with your brethren and singing in unison. OU Israel just has a way of bringing people together.”