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this is how you remember

04/15/2021 08:56:23 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

In 1949 and 1950, Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, was observed on the same day as its’ Independence Day. Families of the fallen soldiers expressed concern to then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who was also Minister of Defense, that the celebratory nature of Independence Day minimized the solemnity of remembrance. In January 1951, Ben-Gurion established the “Public Council for Soldiers’ Commemoration”, whose recommendation was to remember the fallen on the day before Independence Day. The government approved, and Yom HaZikaron was established that same year to occur on the 4th of Iyar, one day before Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.

The observance begins the evening before, as do all Jewish observances. A siren sounds throughout the country for one minute at 8:00PM to signal the beginning of Yom HaZikaron. People stop what they are doing, wherever they are, and stand at attention for one minute. The same siren sounds the following morning at 11:00AM for two minutes, which marks the official beginning of both public and private observances. With the sounding of the evening siren, all public entertainment venues cease. The Israeli television stations pause their regular broadcasting and scroll through the names of the nearly 25,000 men and women who died serving in Israel’s armed forces, and, more recently, this number includes those murdered by terrorists.

There are official public ceremonies at Mt. Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery and the other war memorials throughout the country, as well as quiet, private family remembrances. There is at least one yahrtzeit candle lit in every Israeli home, for none have been spared the loss of a loved one. The flags throughout the country are at half-mast. Yet, incredibly, from this moving and solemn day, at sundown, the flags return to full staff as Israel’s citizens commence celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut, Independence Day.

I’ve often thought of the Memorial Day observances in Israel, particularly the incredible sight of cars and trucks stopped in the middle of highways, citizens throughout the land standing at attention, heads bowed, as they remember the fallen. Then I think of the United States, and ponder what a powerful moment it would be if we did the same thing, honoring our fallen since the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, by standing at attention for two minutes while sirens sounded throughout the land. It would be the ultimate tribute and sign of respect to those who gave their lives so that we could live in freedom in this country. I can recall the disrespect heaped upon soldiers returning from Vietnam, and how long it took until the Vietnam Memorial was unveiled in Washington, D.C. It took so long for us to finally recognize and honor those who serve, with videos now constantly weaved through social media of parents on leave surprising children and spouses, cheers and applauding as combat soldiers return home to heroes’ welcome as they enter airplane terminals, and the fact that “thank you for your service” has become a regular part of our language.

Our Memorial Day needs something more than groups placing American flags in cemeteries, an official ceremony and wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Memorial Day sales in stores, and barbeques. Perhaps we might learn a lesson from the Israeli observance, and particularly its timing. Before you can celebrate your existence as a country, you must thank those who gave their lives so that you are able to celebrate your independence. What a powerful message. One we need to learn.

Sun, May 9 2021 27 Iyyar 5781