Today is May 24, 2019 -
When my father was a baby, his 20-year-old uncle died defending America during WWII. To our knowledge, he was the only family member on both sides of my family to make this ultimate sacrifice. While I am very appreciative of those who have sacrificed to ensure my freedoms, I have no personal relationship with any of these brave men and women.
This is not the case in Israel. Most Israelis have at least one close friend or relative who died in service. This intimate connection has shaped how Israel’s Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron, is observed differently than Memorial Day in the United States. Nico, our emissary from Israel, commented after Memorial Day last year how surprised he was to see the large number of people shopping in Colonie Center, in contrast to the very few people in the cemetery directly across the street.
This Sunday night and Monday, all Israelis will know that it is Yom Hazikaron. Age-appropriate programs will be held in schools. Television documentaries will air throughout the day. Ceremonies will be held at the Kotel, Mount Herzl, and major cemeteries around the country, with all national dignitaries in attendance.
At sundown on Sunday evening, a siren will sound for one minute, signaling the start of the commemorations. At 11:00 a.m. Monday morning, a second siren will sound for two minutes. Everyone in the country will stop moving and stand in silence. Even drivers on the highways will stop their cars, get out, and stand in silence.
As Jews we are commanded to remember. “Remember the exodus from Egypt.” “Remember what Amalek did to you when you left Egypt.” At every communal prayer service, we remember our loved ones with a Mourners Kaddish. Even at our wedding ceremonies, we pause to remember the destruction of Jerusalem.
At sundown on Monday evening, Israelis shift gears and celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Independence Day. Parties, barbeques, special programs, and celebrations will take place all around the country. It is not a coincidence that Yom Ha’atzmaut follows right after Yom Hazikaron, for how can we celebrate so passionately without first remembering so emotionally?
We should never take our freedoms, liberties, or independence for granted–either here or in Israel. We gave too much to get them, and we pay too much to keep them.