Posts Tagged With: yom hazikaron

Freedom Is Not Free- Remembering The Fallen Heroes

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Israel will be 69 years old on  the night of May 1, 2017.

Those 69 years have been filled with both joy and sorrow. Israel has fought in 8 wars and military operations since its founding in 1948. Over 23,000 soldiers have been killed as a result of these operations and over 3,000 civilians have lost their lives due to terrorist attacks.

In a country as small as Israel (the most recent survey showed that Israel has about 8.7 million people), almost everyone has either had a family member killed or injured, or knows someone who was so affected.  

Therefore, unlike most Americans today, Israel takes Memorial Day very seriously.  

In 1968, The United States Congress changed the date of Memorial Day, which was originally May 30, to the last Monday in May to create a three day weekend. This has diluted the purpose of the day. On Memorial Day in the United States, the U.S. flag is lowered to half staff until noon. Americans who have lost family members or friends in the various wars and conflicts in which the United States has been engaged visit cemeteries to pay tribute to the fallen. Many attend Memorial Day parades which feature veterans and members of the various Armed Forces. There is also a National Memorial Day Concert which takes place on the lawn of the United States Capitol.

However, for most Americans the Memorial Day weekend means the unofficial start of the summer season, the Indy 500, NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600, The Memorial Tournament golf event, the final of the NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Championship, and, of course, Memorial Day Sales and barbecues.

In 2000, perhaps in response to the dilution of the meaning of the day, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, asking people to stop and remember the fallen at 3:00 P.M on Memorial Day Monday. To mark the Moment, Major League Baseball games halt, Amtrak train whistles sound across the country, and other organisations do what they can to remind Americans to observe the Moment.

For Israel, the pain of the loss of the fallen is very fresh. This year another 97 people were added to that roster of heroes. There are over 9,000 bereaved parents in Israel, almost 5,000 widows and close to 2,000 orphans under the age of 30, all of whom lost a family member fighting for Israel’s right to exist. This number does not include the relatives and friends of the over 3,000 civilians killed by terrorists.

Israel understands all too well the debt of gratitude it owes to its soldiers and its heroes who sacrificed their lives so that Israel could exist and be free. Therefore, Israel’s Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron, is taken very seriously.

It officially begins with a one minute siren, heard throughout the country, at 8 P.M., during which the entire nation stands still for one minute. Even traffic is halted. This is followed by an official State Ceremony at the Western Wall (the Kotel) in Jerusalem and other gatherings and services throughout the country. (Israelis take this moment so seriously that yesterday, Sunday,  a group of Israelis on a flight from Marrakesh to Munich stood silently for one minute  at 8 P.M.)

For the next 24 hours, all theatres, cinemas, nightclubs, bars, etc. are closed. Radio and television station broadcast programs portraying the lives and heroic deeds of fallen soldiers and play melancholy music which conveys the mood of the day.

A second memorial siren, this one lasting for two minutes, is sounded at 11 A.M. the next morning, marking the beginning of the public recitation of prayers in the military cemeteries throughout the country. The official service is held at Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. Flags are lowered to half staff, special memorial prayers are recited, government officials speak, and a wreath is laid. The ceremony usually concludes with a military gun salute.

At 1PM another national service takes place at Mt. Herzl, this one honoring the memories of those felled by terrorist acts.

This year over 1.5 million Israelis are expected to pay their respects at the graves of those killed in Israel’s struggles.

Schools are open, but almost every high school in Israel has a “memorial corner” with the pictures of the school’s graduates who were killed defending the State. Some high schools organize their own Yom Hazikaron ceremonies and invite the families of the fallen graduates to participate.

Students wear white shirts and blue pants, or skirts, to school that day and soldiers wear their uniforms to the military cemeteries.

A few minutes after sundown, when Memorial day ends, the official switch from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, takes place. In a ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, the flag is raised from half staff to the top of the pole. The president of Israel then delivers a speech of congratulations, and soldiers representing the Army, Navy, and Air Force parade with their flags. This is followed by a torch lighting ceremony, marking the country’s achievements, Many municipalities have their own flag ceremony in which students march with the Israeli flag.

Israelis celebrate Independence Day in a number of ways. Many cities have nighttime activities, fireworks and free concerts. Many spend the night singing Israeli songs and dancing Israeli folk dances. During the day, many families go on hikes and picnics. Others barbeque at home or with family and friends.  Army camps are open to the public and many museums and cultural institutions offer free admission and programs. The day concludes with the granting of the Israeli Prize to individuals who have made unique contributions to Israel’s culture, science, arts and humanities.

The juxtaposition of these two very disparate days and moods is both very moving and meaningful. It helps us realise that freedom is not free. There is a high price to pay and we should be eternally grateful to those who pay it.

Let us  hope that no additional names will be added to the list of the fallen and that we will finally be able to live together in peace.

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Categories: Israel, Israel Independence Day, Israel Memorial Day Yom Hazikaron, It Happened In Israel, Jerusalem, Jewish, Jewish Blog, Jewish Holidays, Yom Haatzmaut, Yom Hazikaron | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel Memorial Day and Independence Day

Shalom:

Beginning Sunday night, May 4, through Tuesday evening, May 6, Israelis experienced a whirlwind of emotions. On these two days, Israelis celebrated Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day and Yom Haatzmaut, Independence Day.

While America also celebrates Memorial Day and Independence Day, Israeli Memorial Day is very different day than Memorial Day in America. Independence Day celebrations are much more similar.

In America, Memorial Day weekend, the last weekend of May, marks the start of summer and is a weekend of sales, barbecues, parades, and other fun activities. The Indianapolis 500 is held the day before Memorial Day, Sunday , as is the Coca Cola 600 stock car race.

On Monday, Memorial Day, the day Americans are supposed to commemorate those who died while serving in the U.S. military service, some people visit cemeteries and memorials honoring those who died defending the country. Parades featuring military marching bands, servicemen and vehicles, are held in many cities throughout the U.S. The flag is flown at half-staff till noon and raised to full staff for the rest of the day. The National Memorial Day concert is held on the west lawn of the US Capitol. Also, traditionally, the President of the United States lays a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery and delivers a speech in remembrance of those who died serving their country, although sometimes Presidents have asked their Vice Presidents to fulfill this duty. Other Americans simply barbecue, go to the beach, or otherwise enjoy the day.

Independence Day, July 4, is a totally separate holiday and not connected in anyway to Memorial or Veteran’s Day.

Contrast this with the Israeli celebrations of their Memorial Day and Independence Day.

Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial day, begins at sundown and ends at sundown the following day, as do all major Jewish Holidays. While Yom Hazikaron has been traditionally dedicated to the remembrance of fallen soldiers, those civilians killed in terrorist attacks are now also included.  

At 8PM, on the night of Yom Hazikaron, a one minute siren is sounded throughout the country to mark the beginning of the Israel’s Day of Remembrance ceremonies. All are requested to stand still in silence as the siren sounds. Many religious Jews say prayers for the fallen. The official ceremony marking the beginning of the day is held at that time at the Western Wall. The Israeli Flag is lowered to half-staff.  A muffled trumpet plays taps. A candle lighting ceremony with speeches honoring the fallen is held at the Western Wall with the Israeli President, Army Chief of Staff, and family members of the slain in attendance. Other solemn gatherings are held throughout the country.

The next morning, a second siren, lasting for two minutes is sounded at 11 A.M. Again, all are requested to stand still in silence for the duration of the siren. This second siren marks the beginning of the official ceremonies at all military cemeteries throughout the country. The main service is held at the military cemetery on Har Hertzl in Jerusalem. Families of the fallen, high level government representatives and members of the public are in attendance.

Memorial ceremonies throughout the country are attended by the families of the fallen, public figures and representatives of the government, police, security forces, and the public. The central service is held at the military cemetery on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. Special prayers are said and public figures give speeches remembering the fallen and praising their sacrifice. The ceremonies often end with a military gun salute.

Throughout the day, the media broadcasts stories about those who died and their heroic acts and interviews with families of the slain. The music played befits the day. Many stores are closed and the day is a somber one.

At 1 PM a service is held at Mt Hertzl in memory of victims of terrorist acts.

At about 8PM, the torch-lighting ceremony at Mt. Herzl is the closing event of Memorial Day, and the opening ceremony of Israel Independence Day. The Israeli flag is returned to full staff and the festivities begin.

Israeli communities host their own Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, Israeli Independence day celebrations.

In Bet Shemesh, at one synagogue, the end of Yom Hazikaron was marked by short student readings of a number of biographies of fallen soldiers and civilians killed by terrorist acts. As the bios were read, the person’s picture was projected on the outside synagogue wall. Many in the audience were brought to tears.

At the conclusion of the readings, students performed a flag dance, signaling the end of Memorial day and the start of Independence day. Special Independence Day services were held in the synagogue including responsive Hebrew reading, a very long Shofar blast, acknowledgment of the Lord’s sovereignty  and a wish for Jerusalem to be brought to its full glory. At the conclusion of the services, free falafel was distributed to those in attendance.

Yom Hazikaron leads Into  Yom Haatmaut

Truly Meaningful.

That night, Bet Shemesh also held a large free concert highlighting the Gat Brothers and Eyal Golan, a very well known Israeli singer.

Gat Brothers in Bet Shemesh

Hassidic Gat Brothers Sing Simon and Garfunkel

Festivities also took place at the Western Wall, other parts of Jerusalem, and in cities and communities throughout  the country. Fireworks were visible throughout Jerusalem, Tel Aviv  and the rest of the country, as was community dancing.

That night and the next day the smell of barbecues permeated the air. Many went to beaches and parks to do the grill thing.

The Memorial Day of solidarity and solemnity, which pays tribute to the fallen, makes the Independence Day celebration immediately following it much more meaningful and joyous. People understand that you cannot have freedom and independence without the sacrifice of the brave.

Freedom is not free.

 

Categories: Israel, It Happened In Israel, Jewish, Yom Haatzmaut, Yom Hazikaron | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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