In Israel, beginning on the fourth of Iyar, two important days arrive back to back. Yom HaZikaron (the Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror) and Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day). It is no coincidence that one comes right after the other.
Israel has battled hard for her independence, and there have been many whose lives were lost fighting for the establishment of the state of Israel and in defending Israel. On Yom HaZikaron, we pay tribute to those people, and on Yom Ha’Atzmaut – our celebration of Israel’s birthday - we also in their honor.
Yom HaZikaron was established in 1949 in commemoration of Israel’s fallen soldiers. Later, this Memorial Day began to include the victims of terrorist attacks as well. In the Hebrew calendar, “day” begins at sundown the preceding night. When Yom HaZikaron begins, there is a siren that blasts throughout Israel. This same siren sounds in the morning as well. Just as on Yom HaShoah, when the siren sounds, everyone halts and takes pause.
To hear and feel the siren running through your body can bring about many different emotions including - swelling with pride, sorrow, anger, contemplative thought, gratitude and honor. Places of public entertainment are closed; memorial services are held in the cemeteries where soldiers and victims are buried. The flag on the top of Mount Herzl is lowered to half-mast.
At 18, there is mandatory military service for Israelis. Despite the growing numbers who are dodging the draft, most Israelis have been connected to the army in one way or another. Yom HaZikaron touches everyone.
On the fifth of the month of Iyar, the formal establishment of the state of Israel was declared and a Declaration of Independence was signed. The placement of Yom HaZikaron right before Yom Ha’Atzmaut was no oversight. Our celebration for the state of Israel clearly would not have taken place if it were not for the soldiers who went to battle and who continue to defend Her.
And, so, on the day (beginning at sundown) following Yom HaZikaron begins the celebration of Israel’s Independence. The flag at Mount Herzl is raised to full mast. Not unlike the fourth of July, there are parades and celebrations. But, the depth of meaning goes beyond the celebration. Everyone knows what is at stake and how much there is to be celebrating. There are speeches by top government officials and visiting presidents offering their congratulations. Even the theatres reflect Israeli Independence Day, showing films about Israel’s history and achievements.
In the States and across the world, Jews are celebrating Israel’s Independence Day. Here in America, community celebrations are often moved to a more convenient day – on the weekend, for example. In Arizona, we hold our celebration a month early before it gets too hot to be outside. This year, we celebrated with skydivers, Israeli dancers, and vendors from Israel selling artwork, jewelry and other items. There were rides and bounce houses for the children, performances by Israeli and local groups, and visits from some of our state government officials.