Making Aliyah: my first Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Part I

Memorial Day and Independence Day. These two days are intricately connected in Israeli society; here, we really wouldn’t have our independence and be the country we are today and be able to celebrate Independence Day if not for those who we remember on Memorial Day. And it’s so fresh and close to everyone, too.

In America, where I am originally from, Memorial Day is mostly celebrated with sales and BBQs, and it is the kickoff day, so to speak, of the summer. It means school will be out soon, beaches are opening up, and it’s time to get out the bathing suits and beach towels! In Israel, Memorial Day starts with a siren throughout the country at 8 pm. Things stop. I was on a not-so-large street and when the siren sounded, my friends and I got out of the car and stood during the siren. Before the siren started a bus pulled over and waited until the siren was over. It wasn’t only our car and that one bus that stopped. It was other cars, too, and other people standing.

After that I went to a ceremony in a popular neighborhood and it was eerie to walk down the street and see EVERYTHING closed. Restaurants, coffee bars, shops. The street was quiet. The ceremony I went to was packed. After the ceremony there was a shira b’tzibur – singing as a group in public. Everyone was sitting on the floor, the words were projected on a screen. It was folk songs, war songs. The radio plays these songs and everyone knows them. It was definitely an experience.

There was a second siren in the morning, at 11 am, and I was at Har Herzl for that one. There are government ceremonies for different days and memorial reasons. I went to a ceremony for the victims of terror where I carried a wreath up for Natan Sharansky to place on a stand. It was amazing to see, as I was walking up to Har Herzl (we couldn’t even get there by car, there was so much traffic) the number of people that there were. And when I got to Har Herzl there were people giving out flowers to place on the kvarot (graves), tehillim, Yizkor (“Remember”) stickers, booklets with Tehillim (Psalms) to say, and bottles of water for people to drink (it’s hot out).

There were people from all different backgrounds, in uniform, in plain clothes, carrying things…And at the graves there were soldiers and families and people who didn’t know those who died. Everyone knows someone, or knows someone who knows someone. In America, I can’t tell you a single name of a person who died so I could live in America. I know too many names, friends of, siblings, parents, grandparents of…here. These are people who died so I could live in Israel.

Up next: The contrast of Yom Haatzamaut (Independence Day)



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