Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Hazikaron: Remembrance Meets Celebration in Israel

April 14, 2013 2:06 am 0 comments

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Yom Hazikaron ceremony in memory of fallen IDF soldiers at Mt. Herzl, May 9, 2011. Photo: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO.

Hundreds of Israeli flags are in place; the Air Force has been rehearsing its formation fly-by routine for days; platforms and sound systems stand ready in the main squares in town; groups of tourists mill about and there’s a discernible festive air. But before Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations of the nation’s 65th birthday take place on April 16, Israel has to pay tribute to those who fell in battles and terror attacks that continue to claim lives even until today.

Officially known as Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day, Yom Hazikaron takes place the day before Yom Ha’atzmaut, and the piercing siren brings the country to a complete standstill at 8 p.m., then again at 11 a.m. the next morning for two minutes of silent remembrance.

The abrupt change in atmosphere between the two days is stunning and uniquely Israeli.

On Yom Hazikaron, all Israeli places of entertainment, cafes and restaurants are closed. Authorities estimate that more than 1 million Israelis visit Israel’s military cemeteries during the day.

Coming one week after Yom HaShoah commemorations marking the systematic murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, on Yom Hazikaron the state of Israel pauses to remember not the mass victims of yesteryear’s death camps, but those Israelis who have died and continue to die, defending the state and its citizens.

Bereavement itself makes up a complete social class in Israel—23,006 soldiers and civilians have died in the 65 years of statehood, leaving 10,550 families to join the ranks of the bereaved.

The central memorial ceremony takes place in Jerusalem as evening falls, and hundreds of bereaved families gather in the Western Wall plaza.

The flag at half-mast flutters in the brisk wind, and the memorial flame flickers boldly in front of the subdued crowd. The Kotel is bereft of the usual worshippers, replaced by rows and rows of men and women with profound sadness in their eyes and pain etched into their faces.

Apart from the ultra-Orthodox, who do not serve in the army in significant numbers, the full spectrum of Israeli society is represented at the service—national religious and secular; Ashkenazi and Sephardi; rich and poor; old and young.

As the siren sounds marking the beginning of the ceremony, a young child drops her head along with the formal honor guard standing at attention across the plaza. The culture of grieving and remembering is ingrained at an early age in Israel.

Lighting the memorial flame together with President Shimon Peres a few years ago was Tziona Netanel, the young widow of Yehonatan Netanel, 27, the last soldier killed in the line of duty in Operation Cast Lead. Radiating strength and dignity, the young mother struggled to retain her composure as the light of the flame illuminated her pain.

At the end of the formal program, Peres and the IDF chief of staff passed among the families, offering brief words of comfort. The gesture reinforces a remark made by Peres during his address to the gathering—that each loss is a national loss, felt keenly by the entire country.

Towards the close of Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen, the heavy mood slowly begins to lift as Israelis emerge from the somber day to celebrate Israel’s birthday.

As night falls, bringing relief from the pain of remembrance, hundreds of Jerusalemites dressed in blue and white stream into synagogues all over the city for special prayers of thanksgiving in honor of Independence Day.

The close of the brief prayer service is the ancient call, “Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem,” followed by a prayer of gratitude for living in the period of the beginning of the redemption and a joyful rendition of the “Shir Hama’alot” psalm sung to the tune of “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem.

Caption: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the international bible competition for youth on Israel Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzmaut) in 2011. Photo: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO.

As the congregations pour out onto the street, it’s as if a cork has been released from a bottle—all the pent-up feelings from the difficult day of remembrance give way to celebration of our continued existence in this land.

Just an hour after dark, stages are activated in neighborhoods all over the city featuring a variety of music and entertainment. Streets downtown are closed off for the night, and are taken over by the pre-teens whose idea of fun is spraying every passerby and storefront with white sticky spray.

Two main stages set up in Independence Park and in Zion Square feature Israel’s most popular groups. The plaza in Safra Square, home of the municipality, is set aside for traditional Israeli dancing.

In the meantime, the official Independence Day opening ceremonies are getting underway at Mount Herzl, adjacent to the military cemetery that was the scene of the bereaved grieving over the graves of their loved ones only hours earlier.

The Independence Day ceremony is the closest Israel gets to a military parade. Dozens of representatives of Israel’s armed forces take part in a meticulously choreographed march set to patriotic music. The formality of the ceremony is very un-Israeli.

Buildings all over the city are adorned with massive Israeli flags. Cars sport flags flapping from every conceivable opening.

Around 10 p.m., crowds start to congregate on King George Street in anticipation of the main fireworks display that is set off from the roof of the Leonardo Plaza Hotel. In two 10-minute sessions, the sky lights up with an awesome array of pyrotechnics.

Many of the non-teen revelers head down to the Jerusalem Theater after the fireworks. The lobby is packed as hundreds join a free sing-along of Israeli classics.

The next morning, most regular folks head out to the parks and beaches for the traditional “mangal,” or barbecue. Regular radio updates report on the traffic gridlock. By mid-day, several national parks are closed because there’s just nowhere to squeeze in another vehicle.

Yom Ha’atzmaut is the one day of the Israeli year that feels like an American Sunday (Sunday is a regular work day in Israel)—a day of pure recreation with no religious obligations. No newspapers, banks or mail to take the mind off the all-important task of finding the best place to set up the portable barbecue.

When Israelis finally get to celebrate Independence Day 2013 after a somber Memorial Day, it will be with the usual mix of emotions that accompany every holiday in the State of Israel—joy and sadness, appreciation and remembrance, and above all, incredulity that Israel has made it to 65.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Relationships Yossi Vardi Credits Pushy Jewish Mother for His Startup Success

    Yossi Vardi Credits Pushy Jewish Mother for His Startup Success

    Millionaire entrepreneur Yossi Vardi credited his success in start-ups to his Jewish mother continuously pushing him to do better, Daily Mail reported on Thursday. “Jewish mothers are never satisfied and nothing is ever good enough,” he said, adding that his mother, who died 15 years ago, used to compare him with his cousins and say he was “an idiot.” “For most of my life I have been trying to show her I’m not,” he continued. “I keep on trying even now.” Vardi, […]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Famed actor Seth Rogen on Tuesday unveiled with typical comic fanfare the trailer for his new Christmas film. The movie “was made by Jews… and opens on Thanksgiving,” Rogen pointed out on Twitter. The Night Before tells the tale of three “ride or die homies” celebrating one last debauchery-filled Christmas Eve reunion before they become too busy to keep up their annual tradition. In an effort to make the night as memorable as possible, they set out to find the “Nutcracka Ball – the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    A June 2015 art exhibit, “The Transformative Power of Art,” at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, harnessed the universal language of art to convey an important message: “Our fragile Mother Earth faces the devastating consequences of climate change, a defining challenge of our time.” The exhibit also included sixteen portraits of people from all over the world who have “contributed to the common good of humanity in one way or another and have transformed the way we […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    A 32-year-old Circassian Israeli Muslim Mixed Martial Arts fighter from Abu Ghosh says he takes pride in fighting under the Israeli flag, Israel’s Walla reported on Sunday. Like most Circassian Israelis, Jackie “the Punishment” Gosh was born Sunni Muslim. He became observant about eight years ago, and is now scrupulous in following his religion’s tenets, praying five times a day and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Gosh is also very proud of his Israeli nationality, and sees no contradiction between […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    A new documentary explores the lives and work of Jewish and Arab rappers in Israel and how the ongoing conflict in the region has impacted their lyrics, the U.K.’s Jewish Chronicle reported on Thursday. Hip Hop in the Holy Land is a six-part series co-directed by Mike Skinner, the British frontman of hip-hop group The Streets, and produced by Noisey, a music channel published by Vice news. The first episode, published last week, shows Skinner meeting with Tamer Nafar, the founder of one of […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada 49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    New 49ers running back and Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne apologized on Wednesday for a tweet in which he raised the age-old myth that Jews were historically responsible for Jesus Christ’s death. Reaching out to his Jewish fans, and the chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, Hayne tweeted: “To the Jewish community @DvirAbramovich #WeAreAllOne.” Underneath, he keenly included a screenshot of a text message to elaborate on his apology: “I sincerely apologize for my tweets on July 1. I […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot reminisced about her childhood in Israel during an interview published in this month’s edition of Vanity Fair. “I don’t remember this, but my mom told me that when I was three they threw a party on the rooftop of the house. They put me to bed, and I heard people coming into the house and no one came to me. I went to the rooftop and took a hose and I started to spray water on everyone, just […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    An Israeli organization is helping wounded U.S. veterans move past their physical and psychological challenges by connecting them with injured Israeli soldiers who understand what they’ve been through. “What we discovered very early is that there’s no ‘professional, psychiatrist, social worker’ or anything like that [or] pills that can come even close to helping a soldier who fought in combat, who was wounded, who lost his friends. No one can help him like another person who’s been through exactly what he has,” Rabbi Chaim Levine, […]

    Read more →