Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel

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The Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah as it’s known in Hebrew, is a sombre commemoration of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. As is usual with Jewish holidays, it starts in the evening and continues throughout the following day.

As you can imagine, it’s a holiday taken seriously in the Holy Land. There is a state ceremony at Vad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Museum on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, and at 10:00 am the following day, air-raid sirens wail their eerie wail for two minutes throughout Israel. During this siren, people stop what they are doing and stand at attention; cars stop, even on the highways, and the whole country comes to a standstill as people pay silent tribute to the dead.

Cafes, restaurants and places of public entertainment are closed by law on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Israeli television airs Holocaust documentaries and Holocaust-related movies (Schindlers List has become the annual fixture, accompanied by The Pianist, two very powerful movies of course and well recommended if you still haven’t seen them) and the latest thumping tunes are taken off the airwaves and replaced by low-key songs.

Not being Jewish, I quite possibly don’t connect emotionally to this day as others obviously do in Israel, but after being here so long it’s kind of filtered through to my soul. Listening to that wailing siren as all those around you stop and reflect, it’s almost impossible not to have images of Holocaust victims and heroic tales flash through your mind. I’ve also seen the numbers tattooed on survivor’s arms and heard tales that send the shivers down your back, whatever your faith.

Let’s hope no other nation or people has to go through something like this ever again.

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