As the sun sets, Israel’s normally bustling streets begin to empty. Israelis all over the country start heading to ceremonies for Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror. At 8 p.m., the siren rings out. At that moment, Israelis stop what they are doing, wherever they are, and stand at attention — even if they are on the highway, they stop their cars and stand outside for 60 seconds. That siren announces the beginning of a 24-hour period of mourning.
In a country of little over 8 million people, every family and every citizen is connected personally, in some way, to someone who lost his life. In the War of Independence, Israel lost one percent of its entire population. Today, the number of fallen stands at 23,085. We mourn their absence and we feel acutely the pain of our loss. We imagine the families they would have had, the homes they would have built, the grandchildren they would have given us. We talk to them, we feel that they are there – but we know that they can’t talk back. Over the years, the pain dulls a little bit, but it never loses its depth, its ability to wrench out our insides.
On Yom HaZikaron, we remember the countless victims of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks — on buses, at nightclubs, in restaurants or on a university campus. Too easily, we forget that it could happen to us. Tonight, we remind ourselves that these people were going about their daily business, leading lives just like ours. And that it was all taken away from them in an instant. We also remind ourselves how much worse it could have been. We remember the heroes who sacrificed their own lives in order to prevent suicide bombers from murdering dozens more.
24 hours later, the sun begins to set once again. Suddenly, the mood changes. Thousands upon thousands of Israelis fill the streets again and begin to party. They set off fireworks, they dance, and they return the flags to full mast. Yom HaAtzmaut celebrations continue into the next day – the entire country is on holiday and enjoying itself. The great Israeli pastime, the mangal [BBQ], reaches its fullest expression.
But how can we make this switch so suddenly? Have we forgotten that but moments before, our hearts were heavy with grief for the family and friends that we lost, and continue to lose every year?
Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut are back-to-back for a purpose. The celebrations of Independence Day are not empty or for their own sake. We celebrate with the acute awareness that without the incredible sacrifice of those we lost, there would be no State of Israel. Yom HaZikaron fills our Yom HaAtzmaut with meaning – it compels us to push ahead, to continue to build, and to never take our lives, our families, or our friends for granted.
F-16I Planes Fly Over Tel-Aviv For Israel’s 63rd Independence Day
65 years ago today, David Ben-Gurion stood in a hot and overcrowded Tel Aviv art museum, and presented Israel’s Declaration of Independence to the delegations in the hall, and to the world. All these years later, the citizens of Israel and Jews around the world celebrate Israeli independence, an independence that we achieved against all odds. We remember the terrible price we have had to pay for our freedom, and because of the price, we value that freedom all the more intensely.