Remembering the Fallen

The day before Israel’s Independence Day is Yom HaZikaron Lechalelay Tsahal (Memorial Day for the Fallen of the Israel Defense Forces), which this year begins on Monday night April 15.

It is characteristically Jewish to place Memorial Day right before Independence Day. Whereas in the Catholic tradition, for example, you have the exuberant Mardi Gras before the austere Lent, in Judaism, you have the Fast of Esther precede the gaiety of Purim, and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) a few days before Succot, traditionally, the happiest of Jewish holidays.

The onset of Israel’s Memorial Day itself follows Jewish tradition in that it occurs with nightfall, rather than midnight; in effect, the two holidays merge into each other, with the mourning of Yom HaZikaron flowing into the celebrating of Yom HaAtzmaut.

Many communities have their own Memorial Day ceremonies, especially honoring the fallen relatives of families who live in that community. (If a person dies at any time during the course of his or her military service, he or she is considered an official Israel Defense Forces (IDF) casualty.)

Givat Ze’ev’s ceremony takes place beside its own memorial monument. The ceremony begins at 7:50 p.m. with the lowering of the Israeli flag to half-staff, the lighting of memorial torches and the recitation of the Yizkor memorial prayer.

Businesses are open on Memorial Day, though friends and relatives of the deceased will usually fill the country’s army cemeteries with prayers and reminiscences, placing stones and flowers at the graves of their loved ones (parts of some of these cemeteries are only open during this one day of the year). Schools are open, too, with learning focused on the themes of service and patriotism to one’s country, and with a special school assembly.

State radio and television programming (advertisement-free on this day) tells specific life stories of some of the soldiers who died, and victims of terror incidents are also recalled.

At precisely 11 a.m., a siren will sound for two minutes across the country. During these two minutes, it is customary to stop whatever you are doing. Traffic on Israel’s roads and highways comes to a complete halt during this period, as drivers and passengers all get out of their vehicles and stand silently at attention. There is an official national ceremony in Jerusalem to mark the end of Memorial Day before the festivities of Independence Day can commence.

When the holiday does begin a short while later, it is with a renewed awareness of the price that Israelis have paid and continue to pay for their independence.

You are Invited

The Consulate General of Israel will hold a Yom haZikaron service on Mon., April 15 at 6:30 p.m. at Adat Ari El Synagogue (12020 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood). Consul General Yuval Rotem and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky will be among the speakers. The public is urged to attend the free event, which will be held in Hebrew and English.