It's an Israel Thing 5/3/11
Yom HaZikaron: A Time of Remembrance and Aspiration


May 3rd, 2011 | 29th Nisan 5771 

As the NFTY Shaliach I have the pleasure of traveling to different NFTY regions and seeing many airports in the United States. Once during my travels, a gathering around one of the gates in the airport drew my attention. I joined it, and witnessed a really emotional scene: soldiers in uniforms emerged from the jet bridge connecting the airplane to the gate. Every soldier who entered won warm applause from the gathered passersby. And of course, each one received big hugs and kisses from loved ones who were waiting with signs bearing messages such as: “Welcome Home Daddy.” Though I don’t know where those soldiers came from and how long their relatives were waiting for their return, I must say I was touched. The only thing missing was background music (the kind you hear at Hollywood movies when the scene turns dramatic), for me to shed a tear as well.

While it’s rather obvious to me that every country cherishes its own servicemen and women, I feel that in Israel this appreciation has a deeper meaning. Maybe it’s because of Israel’s historic struggle for its establishment and survival surrounded by hostile neighbors. Maybe it’s because Israel’s security forces don’t have to cross half the globe as part of their role, but instead serve a few hours or a minutes away from their homes, sometimes literally defending their own backyards. Maybe it’s because most Israelis have served themselves at some time in their lives in the security forces, and are connected with people who were killed or injured as a result of military service or terrorist attacks. And maybe it’s a combination of all of these reasons.

This feeling I’m talking about is best demonstrated on Yom HaZikaron, Israel's official Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, which will be held this coming Monday (May 9, 2011; 5 Iyar 5771). In accordance with the Hebrew calendar, the day actually begins on the preceding evening at 8:00 p.m. with the blast of an air raid siren. (The second blast is heard the following morning at 11:00 a.m.). The wailing of sirens brings everyone to a halt, including cars on the road (as seen below), so Israelis can stand in silence, remembering their debt to the fallen.

Israeli cars come to a halt as the Yom HaZikaron siren sounds

In my mind, this honorable custom of commemorating and expressing eternal gratitude is also an amazing gesture of solidarity, because it signifies not just a dead person’s life with its endless future potential that is forever lost, but also the lives of those who knew and loved him that will never be the same again. It’s almost impossible to truly understand the grief of the families and friends who have lost their loved ones. However, on this day, and especially in those moments when the whole country stands still, we most sympathize with the bereaved families. In those moments we’re all one big family, united in our loss.

In a strange twist or irony, with the closing of this sad day comes the happiest day. Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day, opens when the country celebrates its sovereignty and its various national achievements. It’s an emotionally difficult transition, but it helps emphasize the lasting tie between the sacrifice of the fallen, and the continued existence of a vibrant and dynamic state of Israel. By remembering the tremendous price so many have paid to this place, we Israelis and those who passionately care about Israel, are required to make it a meaningful celebration – not as place worth dying for, rather as a place worth living in!

Rega Shel Ivrit

Magash Hakesef – מגש הכסף (The Silver Plate)

Chaim Weizmann, the first President of Israel, famously said after the 1947 United Nations Partition Decision that no state is given to a people on a silver plate, referring to the toil and effort of the early Zionist pioneers and the sacrifice of many who gave their lives in defense of their country. Soon after, as war between the Arabs and the Jews approached in 1948, the Poet Nathan Alterman took this term – Magash Hakesef – and made it into a title of a poem, in an advance tribute to the youth who would fall in the coming war. The tragic understanding of the sacrifices that everyone understood would have to be made for independence is sadly enough still part of the Israeli reality today sixty-three years after Israel gained independence. Hence, it’s no wonder that Magash Hakesef continues to be one of the iconic poems read at Yom HaZikaron ceremonies around the country. My only hope is that one day, sooner rather than later, this realty will change permanently.

May the memory of the fallen be for a blessing,

To read previous issues, please visit our archive page
To sign up for the bi-weekly e-mail, please visit our subscriptions page

Get Involved
Stay Connected
Related Items