An empty Western Wall ceremony begins Memorial Day 2020

All cemeteries closed during Israel's most sacrosanct day due to coronavirus regulations

The Memorial torch being lit at the Western Wall Memorial Day ceremony 2020 by IDF Widows and Orphans' Organization Chairwoman Tami Shelah (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
The Memorial torch being lit at the Western Wall Memorial Day ceremony 2020 by IDF Widows and Orphans' Organization Chairwoman Tami Shelah
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Israelis stood in silence and bowed their heads for one minute Sunday evening as the memorial siren blared across the country in commemoration of Remembrance Day. 
Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Victims of Terrorism began at 8 p.m. with the siren in memory of the fallen, followed by the official ceremony at the Western Wall with President Reuven Rivlin, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, OC Manpower Directorate head Maj.-Gen. Moti Almoz, OC Nahal Brigade head Col. Yisrael Shomer and others. They all were wearing protective masks and observing social distancing.
The memorial torch was lit by IDF Widows and Orphans Organization chairwoman Tami Shelah, the widow of Maj.-Gen. Ehud Shelah, who fell during the Yom Kippur War.
For the first time, the ceremony was held without an audience, and all cemeteries and memorial sites across the country were closed Monday evening. They will remain shuttered until Thursday morning as part of the government’s lockdown regulations to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The ceremony marked the beginning of the day that honors the 23,816 security personnel who have died defending the State of Israel since the beginning of the modern Jewish movement in the Land of Israel in 1860 and the 3,153 victims of terrorism in Israel and abroad.
The past year saw 75 names added to the list of fallen servicemen as well as 33 disabled veterans who succumbed to wounds sustained during their service. One Israeli civilian, Rina Schnerb, was added to the list of terrorism victims after she was killed in a bombing attack near the West Bank settlement of Dolev last August.
With his voice cracking, Rivlin addressed bereaved families who “this year are alone in your rooms, listening to the echoes of their voices. We cannot come to your homes. We cannot stand alongside you at the military cemeteries. We cannot embrace you to hold you close when the siren pierces the silence, tearing at our hearts.
“I know, dear families, that you do not need Remembrance Day to remember,” he said. “You have so many more days, so many more nights, all year. This day is for us so that we can, even just for a minute, know the names and the faces, the lives and the stories of the men and women of this country, of your loved ones. This year, we cannot cry together. This year we cannot look each other in the eye.” 
Nevertheless, he said, “this year, more than ever, we will give them all life. We will all be memorial candles to the lives they lived and to the lives they will never live. We will embrace you, beloved families, from afar, our hearts with yours. Our souls are bound up with yours.”
The isolation caused by the ongoing pandemic only amplifies “what is gone, the vacuum, the missing, the pain,” Rivlin said.
Addressing the bereaved families at the Western Wall ceremony, Kochavi said that despite the distance, all the people of Israel are together with them “through all sorts of screens,” dedicating time to remember and honor the fallen.
“Many of the families in the country have relatives, neighbors or acquaintances who gave their lives, and most of the people have a deep sense of identification with sacrifice,” he said. “The whole nation of Israel is grieving today. But the pain of your families cannot be described. It is constant and infinite, residing in the heart and consciousness, present like the circulation of blood in the body and pulsing continuously. And the pulse increases every time you hear the song he loved, every time you prepare the dish she loved and every time you see a soldier with a beret of the same color, and then imagination and reality mix.”
The deaths of IDF soldiers and commanders “allowed us to live a safe life in the State of Israel,” Kochavi said.
“There is now almost no place in Israel that is not soaked in the blood of our fighters,” he said. “But nowadays, on the roads on which armored vehicles broke down, thousands of cars now travel instead of where fighters lost their lives, bustling settlements have been set up, and in places where companies and battalions and brigades have marched, there are now cities.
“And now in our generation it is our duty to continue to ensure life with confidence,” Kochavi said. “Faced with enemies and terrorist armies who never stop trying to hurt the citizens of the State of Israel, the IDF stands ready, powerful and offensive. We will face each mission with willingness and determination, and we will win.”
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who visited Mount Herzl earlier on Monday accompanied by Kochavi and Aryeh Moalem, head of the Defense Ministry’s Families and Commemoration Department, met with Shelah and bereaved families.
During the visit, Bennett inaugurated the presentation of the digital visitors’ book at the State Memorial Hall for Israel’s Fallen, which marks the beginning of the “Remembered Forever” project and allows visitors to light a candle in memory of the fallen and leave a message in the hall.
“This year is different,” Bennett said. “This year Remembrance Day is actually spread over almost a week, and I want to thank the wonderful soldiers who are here and in all the cemeteries. I tell the families I love you very much and regret that this year it was not possible to come and commemorate on Remembrance Day itself. I just guarantee that we did not do it maliciously, but rather because of a genuine desire to keep you safe.”
Defense officials have called on the Israeli public to honor their loved ones at home “using digital means.” All ceremonies will be broadcast live, including the state remembrance ceremony on Mount Herzl on Tuesday morning following the two-minute siren at 11 a.m.
The names of the fallen will be read at Mount Herzl from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., and the state ceremony honoring victims of terrorism will be held at 1 p.m., also with no audience.