Yom HaZikaron: A Different Approach to Memorializing the Fallen

May 26th 2016

Yom HaZikaron is a unique day for Israelis. When American’s think of Memorial Day, they picture shopping, BBQ’s, and fireworks. But Israelis have an entirely different approach to their memorial celebrations.

Yom HaZikaron is a solemn day set aside to remember the many soldiers and individuals who fell while liberating this country. Every Jew across the globe regardless of race, creed, or color, has a place s/he can call home, and they have these fine soldiers to thank for it. So whether you are American, South African, British, or Chinese, if you are in Israel on April 30, 2017, bow your head in respectful silence as we remember the bravest of the brave who gave us all we have today.

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Commemorating the Soldiers

If you are going to be in the Middle East this May, then it’s a good idea to learn some of the cultural customs and significances that Yom HaZikaron holds. Here are some interesting facts along with activities that you and your family can do this Israeli Memorial Day to get into the spirit of things.

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The Siren

On the eve of Yom HaZikaron, a siren is sounded across Israel. For a full minute, all traffic stops, business ceases, and conversations screech to a halt. Everyone stands in silence for a full minute, and remembers the fallen soldiers who were brave enough to lay down their lives for our freedom. Out of respect, you should stop what you are doing at the time (8PM Tuesday night, May 10th), and be mindful of this custom. Many people stand up because, while the fallen can no longer stand, we rise for them.

Another two-minute siren will be sounded at 11AM on the actual day of Yom HaZikaron (Wednesday, May 11th this year).

Memorial Services

There are several memorial services held on this day to remember the fallen soldiers. Mount Herzl is the biggest gathering, but other sites have services as well. Visit the Kotel Tuesday night for a meaningful State Ceremony, join in the commemoration at Jerusalem’s Safra Square, or circle around Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to pay your respect for the lives that were lost.

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Visiting a Gravesite

Since Mount Herzl is the main military cemetery, many tourists will head there to pay their respects, but truthfully, almost any gravesite in Israel holds lives that were lost defending the country. From the Shikun Vatikim Cemetery in Netanya to the Kiryat Shaul Cemetery, there are plenty of opportunities for a tourist to show solidarity on this solemn day.

Yom HaZikaron is also a day to remember others who have fallen for the sake of their Jewish faith. Holocaust survivors, victims of terror, and lives that were shattered from anti-Semitism are all remembered and mourned on this emotional day.

Out of the Ashes Comes Hope

One last beautiful aspect of this people and culture is worth noting. As the sun sets on this Memorial Day, a day of great sadness for so many Israelis, the country ushers in Yom HaAtzmaut, Independence Day. In contrast to the solemn Memorial Day, Yom HaAtzmaut is a day of celebration and merriment. On the heels of sadness, we bring forth joy; upon finalizing our grief, we are ready to greet a new day with happiness and enthusiasm. Among a great many other things, this is one of the secrets of Jewish continuity. Come mourn, cry, and rejoice together with this ancient people.