Celebrating Memorial Day in the USA and in Israel - In Israel it is not a happy time

 Much of the material in this essay was excerpted from an article appearing in the Jerusalem Post, dated 4/30/2017, "MEMORIAL DAY 2017: ISRAEL TO HONOR ANOTHER 97 FALLEN" BY ANNA AHRONHEIM .

It’s eight o’clock on Sunday night. The siren begins its wail. I put down the orange that I am peeling; it seems disrespectful not to do otherwise.

 This evening is the start of Memorial Day here in Israel.  Although there are similarities, the celebration of Memorial Day in Israel is not what the people in the USA are used to. Both countries honor their war dead, and we both decorate their graves, and in the USA, Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day.

Israelis call it The Day of Remembering, Yom Hazichoron.  For us it begins tonight, Sunday, at 8 PM when sirens will be heard throughout the country. Over the past year 97 soldiers and officers serving in Israel’s security forces, including 37 wounded veterans who have succumbed to their wounds, will be part of the 23,544 who have died defending the State of Israel.  It is not a happy time.  It also commemorates those civilians who died as a result of terror attacks.

There will not be anything like the thousands of parades taking place with marching bands in large and small cities all over the USA. We will not come close to anything like the traditional running of the Indianapolis 500 or NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600.  We’ll both visit cemeteries, but there will not be pot-luck dinners held on the grounds of our synagogues in contrast to the picnic-like settings at many churches in the USA. There will be no Memorial Day sales events.  Best Buy will not get any of our business.  And even though I am advised that Memorial Day is a great time to shop for clothing, the shops in my little town of Nahariya shut down early  in the day...another sign of respect.


Memorial Day weekend sales and deals are here!

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 That is not to say that in Israel our Memorial Day is not upfront and personal.  In Israel there are a total of 9,157 bereaved parents, thousands of bereaved siblings, 4,881 widows and 1,843 orphans under the age of 30.  Additionally, 3,117 civilians have been killed in hostile acts such as terror attacks since the birth of the country, including 122 foreign nationals and 100 Israelis killed in attacks abroad.  Probably in time, Memorial Day in the USA will commemorate the 2,996 lost in 9/11 terror attack, including 343 firefighters, 72 law enforcement officers and 55 military personnel.

 At evening services tonight in some synagogues, memorial prayers are recited for the fallen. Tomorrow morning at eleven o’clock the sirens will sound once more for two minutes during which we Israelis will stop everything including driving , and stand in silence, commemorating the fallen and showing respect.  We will also remember the IDF's missing soldiers and the fallen soldiers whose place of burial is unknown, and we will pray that our children return to their own land.  It is not a happy time.

Wherever soldiers are buried there will be gatherings and ceremonies.  Over the course of the day one of the television stations will screen the names of all the fallen in chronological order by rank, name, Hebrew date and secular date deceased.  Names appear for about three seconds each.  It is not a happy time. 

 I get to the cemetery early. Some young people handed me a bouquet. I turned to the graves; there were so many of them. I did not know which one to lay the flowers on. I chose 34 year old Lt. Eliyahu Tadri who perished in July of 1948. It has been a most sad day. I am in a blue funk. Nearby to Lt. Tadri were the graves of three 18 year olds. It has been a very sad day.  Early that evening at the Mincha service we say the Kaddish prayer.

Immediately following Yom Hazichoron, Memorial Day, we begin celebrating Independence Day, Yom Ha-Atzmaut.  The scheduling of Yom Hazikaron right before Yom Ha-Atzmaut is intended to remind people of the price paid for independence and of what was achieved theough the soldiers' sacrifice.  This transition shows the importance of this day among Israelis, most of whom have served in the armed forces or have a connection with people who were killed during their military service.  

The contrast between 4th of July  and Yom Ha-Atzmaut celebrations brings to the fore, once again, the difference between the two cultures and their every day differing realities of life and death.  During the Maariv service the Ark is opened; we say the Hallel and the Shofar is blown.  I am still wrestling with my emotions from Yom Hazichoron.  I don’t feel like dancing and the fireworks of Independence Day hold little attraction.  I drink a L’Chaim to Lt. Tadri and go to bed.
In the Book of Joshua, God gives Joshua the daunting task of defeating the Canaanites.  No less than three times, God exhorts Joshua to be strong and to persevere… חֲזַק וֶאֱמַץ.  For we Israelis, that self same message rings true today as it did more than three thousand years ago: Be strong and persevere.

 Michael may be contacted at mick,jaron@gmail.com