Israeli casualties of major wars, military engagements, operations, and enemy terrorist attacks are remembered on Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s national remembrance day.
The memorial rolls include Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, airmen, and sailors; fallen members of the Mossad intelligence service, the Israel Police, the Border Police, the Israel Prisons Service, the Shin Bet Security services, and other (pre-state) Jewish Brigades and Legions; and contemporary heroes of the state and civilian terror victims.
In a small nation of a few million people, a relatively high percentage of Israelis have been killed, disabled, or wounded in seven major wars, varied conflicts, IDF military actions, and terror campaigns suffered by the civilian population.
The holiday opens with a sunset siren the preceding evening at 20:00 (8 PM). The siren is heard all over the country and lasts for one minute, during which Israelis stop activity and driving and stand in silence, commemorating the fallen and showing respect.
Many religious Jews say prayers for the souls of the fallen soldiers. The official ceremony to mark the day occurs at the Western Wall, and the flag of Israel is lowered to half-staff.
A two-minute siren is heard at 11 AM on the holiday. Many Israelis visit the resting places of loved ones and attend public and private ceremonies. The day officially draws to a close between 19:00 and 20:00 (7–8 PM) with the official ceremony of Israel Independence Day on Mount Herzl, when the flag of Israel is returned to full staff.
As the holiday closes, the mood brightens and Israelis celebrate their national Independence Day. Scheduling Yom Hazikaron immediately prior to Yom Ha’atzmaut is intended to remind people of the price paid for independence by the sacrifice of patriots. This transition shows the importance of the day among Israelis, most who have served in the armed forces or have a connection with people who were killed during their military service.
For a tiny nation to suffer tens of thousands of deaths, wounds, and disabilities—and yet maintain its resolute defense posture and confidence in itself against a range of enemies—is impressive, even awe-inspiring.
This is worth respecting, and may inspire Americans as well to ponder how we commemorate our Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Independence Day holidays here in the land of the free and home of the brave.
Most Americans believe that we are fortunate to live in the United States. Millions more immigrants agree and vote with their feet—moving here every year, and all Americans are aware of our blessings, most formally celebrated on Thanksgiving Day.
May we Americans more formally honor the sacrifice of those who gave their lives, or limbs, not only on our holidays, but also in our commitment to the families of the fallen, to the wounded warriors, and to the project of national security for which they dedicated their lives.
One ponders an American national moment of silence, or some act of unifying respect from sea to shining sea.
Israel has given the world many gifts of social and economic innovations. Israeli national respect for their remembered heroes and honored fellow citizens is another meaningful model for us all.
[Editor’s note: This year, Yom Hazikaron will begin on the evening of Tuesday, April 24. The conclusion of the holiday on Wednesday marks the start of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day]
Larry Greenfield is Executive Director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (www.jinsa.org).