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Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut: When Our Mourning Turns to Joy

we-remember

In Judaism, yahrtzeit (anniversary) candles are commonly lit by mourners on the anniversary of a loved one’s death.

Yom HaZikaron—A Day to Remember the Fallen

“Fear not: for I am with you: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather you from the west; I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring My sons from far, and My daughters from the ends of the earth.”  (Isaiah 43:5–7)

All of Israel came to a standstill last night as a very solemn day of remembrance began—the Day of Remembrance for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and the Victims of Terrorism, which in Hebrew is Yom HaZikaron l’Chalalei Ma’arachot Yisrael v’l'Nifgaei Peulot Ha’eivah or just Yom HaZikaron.

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Parents overcome with grief on Yom HaZikaron.

“Remembering the fallen is a moral debt we all have, since through their deaths, they promised us life,” Ya’alon wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday.

At 8 p.m., the siren blasted and heads everywhere bowed in silence at the Old City of Jerusalem’s Western Wall and at community centers throughout Israel built by Beit Yad LeBanim—an organization that provides support groups for the families of fallen soldiers and security forces.

Following the siren, the Israeli flag was lowered to half-staff.

“The air raid sirens that will pierce the air on the eve of Remembrance Day will be the sign that transforms personal loss, which is so agonizing, to everyone’s loss.  It seems that there is no Israeli citizen who has not experienced bereavement, whether it’s personal or through knowing friends who fell,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon wrote in a letter sent to bereaved families on Friday. 

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Israeli President Shimon Peres at the opening ceremonies of Yom HaZikaron.

Today at 11 a.m., the siren once again sounded, this time for two minutes, and all across the nation, Israelis stopped what they were doing to pay homage to those who have died.  Even cars and buses stopped in the streets. 

The sirens mark the beginning of ceremonies at cemeteries throughout the country where soldiers are buried. 

It was a very moving, unifying moment among the living as they honor the 23,169 casualties of war and terrorism who have fallen since 1860, which is when Jews were initially allowed to live outside of the Old City walls of Jerusalem under the Ottoman Empire.

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When the siren sounded for Yom HaZikaron, drivers all over the country pulled over their vehicles, stepped out, and bowed their heads.

Some 22,000 have fallen since Israel once again became an independent state in 1948.

The number of bereaved family members now stands at 17,038, of which 2,141 are orphans, and 4,966 are IDF widows.  (JPost)

Although regular broadcasting is suspended here in Israel, throughout the day a special television broadcast is paying tribute to fallen soldiers with a roll call of their names and the date they died.

This year, about 57 names have been added to those remembered.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lays a wreath on Yom HaZikaron.

Among those who fell during the past 12 months are the following:

  • Staff Sergeant Gabriel Kobi, 20, who was killed in Hebron on September 22 by a Palestinian sniper while on guard duty outside the Cave of the Patriarchs.
  • Private Eden Atias, 18, who was stabbed in the neck on November 11 while on a bus in the northern Israeli city of Afula.
  • Petty officer 1st class Shlomo Cohen, 31, who was killed December 15 while on duty by a Lebanese sniper who shot him as he was driving near the Israel-Lebanon border fence in an unarmored military vehicle.

“The gravestones of the fallen look similar, and the earth that covers them is the same earth—the soil of Israel which they loved—but each and every one of the soldiers buried here is a unique shade of Israeli society,” Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said at a flag placing ceremony on Mount Herzl last week.  “They united for one common goal, safeguarding the security of the state of Israel.”  (JPost)

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Israeli flags with black ribbons were placed on the graves of soldiers last week in preparation for Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers.  IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz saluted the fallen IDF soldiers and security agents.

A Solemn Day Set Apart from Any Other

Yom HaZikaron is a very solemn and sad day not unlike last week’s Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), which commemorated those who died during the World War II Holocaust—those murdered outright and those who died fighting the Germans in acts of resistance.

Although this day was originally dedicated solely to those who died in battle, in more recent years the day has been expanded to include victims of terrorist attacks and political violence in general. 

As well, remembrance of the fallen initially was combined with the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, but the public expressed a desire to honor the military dead on a separate day.

In 1951, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion formed a special council to discuss the issue.  It recommended establishing the 4th of the Hebrew month of Iyar, the day proceeding Independence Day (which begins tonight at sunset), as a special day for remembrance of the fallen.  The proposal was approved by the government.

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Israelis pay respect on Yom HaZikaron to those who were killed defending Israel and by terrorists.

Yom HaZikaron will be brought to a close tonight between 7 and 8 p.m. with an official ceremony held at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl, also called Har HaZikaron (Mount of Remembrance).

The flag will be returned to full staff as Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day), which commemorates the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948, is ushered in with full military colors including marching bands.

The event will be televised throughout the country.

Having Yom HaAtzmaut follow Yom HaZikaron in this manner reminds us all of the soldiers’ sacrifice and the cost paid for independence.

This is not lost on Israelis, since most have served in the military or have a connection with those lost in battle.

“We in Israel are fighting, and dying, on behalf of every Jew in the world.…  We are maintaining a safe haven for every Jew to escape to.  Jews in the diaspora live safer lives and hold their heads higher because Israel and its army exist,” said Chantal Belzberg, executive vice chairman of One Family, an organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of Israeli victims of terror attacks and their families.  (JWeekly)

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Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky stands alongside Jean Goldie Orta, as she lights a torch to honor the Jewish victims of terror abroad during a special ceremony on Yom HaZikaron.  Orta’s mother was killed in the terror attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai in November 2008.  Since the founding of Israel, some 200 Diaspora Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic attacks, according to the Agency.

Yom HaAtzmaut—A Celebration of Accomplishment and Miracles 

Yom HaAtzmaut or Independence Day, which has a different theme each year, begins tonight with the lighting of 12 torches, which represent the twelve tribes of Israel.

For the first time ever, all 12 of the torches will be lit by women since this year’s theme is “The Era of Women—Achievements and Challenges.”

In total, 14 women have been selected to light the torches.

Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat described this group as being “a unique mosaic of Israeli society,” adding, “They inspire the empowerment of women.”  (Israel Hayom)

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The sorrow of Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers turns to joy as Israelis rejoice in the miracle of the rebirth of an independent modern-day State of Israel.

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”  (Psalm 30:11)

The 2014 Torch Lighters

  • Adina Bar-Shalom, an education activist who will receive this year’s Israel Prize for lifetime achievement tomorrow;  
  • Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, head of the Israel Defense Forces Manpower Directorate and the first woman to achieve the rank of major general;  
  • Geula Cohen, known for her work in promoting Basic Law: Jerusalem, the law that declares all of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  She will be accompanied by 16-year-old Gal Yosef, chairperson of the National Students Council.   
  • Maxine Fassberg, CEO of the nation’s largest high-tech company, Intel Israel;  
  • Carmela Menashe, Army Radio veteran affairs reporter; 
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Carmela Menashe, who was born in Iraq, is considered one of Israel’s leading journalists.

  • Miriam Peretz, an educator who lost her two sons Maj. Eliraz Peretz, 32, and Lt. Uriel Peretz, 22, in combat in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip;  
  • Tali Peretz-Cohen, director of the rape crisis center in the Golan and Galilee;  
  • Shahar Pe’er, an Israeli tennis player who ranked 11th in the world in 2011, will light a torch with Paralympic athlete Pascale Berkowitz, who competed in both the Beijing and London Paralympic Games; 
  • Dr. Kira Radinsky, Technion’s (Israel’s MIT) 27-year-old researcher who has already established herself through her groundbreaking work in the field of web dynamics for predicting future social events;  
  • Hindia Suleiman, an Arab social activist, for her work in empowering Israeli Arab women;   
  • Belaynesh Zevadia, Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia; and   
  • Miriam Zohar, famous Israeli theater actress and 1986 Israel Prize winner.
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A torch burns during a Yom HaAtzmaut ceremony.

Previous to the torch lighting celebration, soldiers from all branches of the military march in a parade presenting their flags.

In past years, a much more impressive military parade with tanks and all forms of military hardware, would take place through the streets of Jerusalem accompanied by an impressive flyover by air force jets.

The last parade of this type occurred in 1973 and was viewed by former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.  This was only a few months before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War and his death, which followed weeks later.

Possibly because of the military nature of such parades, they have not been repeated since then. 

The lack of these parades, however, has not dampened the spirit of the holiday, which is celebrated throughout the country with public shows offered by municipalities, and Israeli folk dancing and singing.

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Israelis dance on the street and wave flags on Independence Day.

During the day, families go on hikes and the parks are filled with picnickers enjoying the traditional mangal or barbecue.

People can also visit one of the many army camps that are open to visitors with their most up-to-date armament on view.

This is also the day on which the International Bible Contest takes place.  Contestants from all parts of the world are pitted against each other to test their knowledge of the Bible.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (front row center) with the 2014 International Bible Contest contestants.

The holiday ends with the “Israel Prize” ceremony at Jerusalem’s Binyaneh HaUmah Exhibition Center, where Israelis are awarded for outstanding achievement in the fields of the humanities, social sciences, Jewish studies, the natural and exact sciences, culture, arts, communication and sports, lifetime achievement, and exceptional contribution to the nation.

Well-known individuals that have been awarded the prize include the Nobel Prize laureate writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon, philosopher and writer Martin Buber, diplomat Abba Eban, Hebrew novelist and playwright A. B. Yehoshua, mathematician and Nobel Prize winner Israel Aumann, and former Prime Minister Golda Meir.

Organizations have also won the prize, such as Yad Vashem (Holocaust Memorial), Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Jewish National Fund, and Jewish Agency for Israel.

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The Israeli flag flies over the Western (Wailing) Wall Plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem.

A Miraculous Birthday Declaration

This Yom HaAtzmaut marks the 66th year since Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced Israel’s independence at the stroke of midnight on May 14, 1948 (Iyyar 5):

“The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish People.  Here the spiritual, religious, and national identity was formed.  Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance.  Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.”

“We, the members of the National council … hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rolled up his sleeves to help place a flag commemorating Israel’s 66th birthday.  (YouTube capture)

The miraculous rebirth of Israel, which ended 2,000 years of exile, was clearly foretold by Hebrew prophets, including Moses.

Despite the scattering of God’s Chosen People and repeated attempts throughout the ages to annihilate them, they not only survived, but God is regathering them as He promised.

“I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, and they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them; They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, and make gardens and eat their fruit.  I will also plant them on their land, and they will not again be rooted out from their land which I have given them.”  (Amos 9:14–15)

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Israelis pour into the streets to celebrate Israel’s birthday.

While Israel celebrates Yom HaZikaran and its 66th birthday, it is also being observed by Jewish communities throughout most of the Western world.

Messianic Believers and Christians will attend events and stand with the Jewish community at large in solidarity for the restored State of Israel.

As well, today in the New York Times and USA Today are full-page ads of the Israeli Declaration of Independence.  The ads were made possible by the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

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A young Israeli proudly parades the Israeli flag.

“Many people are indifferent to Israel, unaware of its history…  By publishing Israel’s founding document in two of the most widely read newspapers across the country, we will reach many Americans who often don’t have the chance to learn about the deep similarities between our countries due to media coverage that focuses primarily on conflict,” said Helmsley trustee Sandor Frankel.

As a liberal democracy, Israel is unique in this region of the world which is dominated by autocracies and theocracies.

Although Israel is by no means a perfect state, it has a diverse culture in which all citizens, regardless of race, religion, gender or creed enjoy guaranteed civil and political liberties.

“At a time when Israel’s legitimacy and policies are under assault, it is of great importance to remind people of Israel’s founding document that enumerates the principles upon which Israel was founded and which continue to operate as its guiding principles,” he said.  (Arutz Sheva)

Maintaining those civil liberties against the tide of uncompromising enemies has taken great courage and sacrifice.

“A great miracle happened here.  The people of Israel came home and are doing/does wonders here.  We have much more to do and to improve, but we are not forgetting that we are here because of them,” Netanyahu said last night as he acknowledged the sacrifice of soldiers and the “unmatched pain” of Israel’s bereaved families.  (JPost)

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