Thousands of religious Jews looking for an alternative to secular Zionist mourning symbols gathered at the Jerusalem Convention Center on the eve of Remembrance Day to honor the fallen in their own way.
Rabbis' sermons, poetic lamentations and quiet contemporary Jewish music replaced military salutes, black ribbons and classic Israeli pop sing-alongs as a primarily religious Zionist crowd refashioned the national day of mourning after their own sensibilities.
The ceremony began a half hour after the one-minute siren marked the official beginning of Remembrance Day so participants could avoid standing at attention. Religious Jews consider standing silently during the sounding of the siren a gentile custom foreign to traditional Judaism.
"We are not dissenters," said Dov Kalmanovitz, a victim of terrorism and an organizer of the alternative ceremony. "We just want to express the nation's grief in our own way."
Speakers included Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat; Rabbi Mordechai Elon, head of Yeshivat Hakotel; Nobel Prize Laureate Israel Auman, whose son fell in the Lebanon War; and Yehuda Meshi Zahav, chairman of ZAKA.
This was the third alternative Remembrance Day ceremony organized by Kalmonovitz, who was chosen this year to chair the state-recognized Victims of Terror organization.
One participant, who chose to speak off record, said that alternative ceremonies such as Kalmanovitz's would gain popularity among religious Zionists, especially after the evacuation of Gaza and Northern Samaria and the brutal confrontation between police and settlers at Amona.
"Secular Zionism is bankrupt," he said. "All those ideals held by the founding fathers, with which we as religious Zionists once identified, are gone. There is nothing left except nostalgia."
Riskin, however, felt that Remembrance Day should be a day of unity.
"These are times that all of us, both religious and secular, should be united," said Riskin. "We might identify with different symbols but we must mourn together."
Meshi-Zahav said that more and more haredim identify with Remembrance Day, which is also a day of mourning for terrorist victims. "The intifada does not differentiate between haredi and secular blood," he said.
Nevertheless, in haredi educational institutions Remembrance Day is not mentioned.
One haredi source connected with Ponevezh Yeshiva, one of the most prestigious yeshivot in the haredi community, rejected Meshi-Zahav's statement.
"The only haredi representatives you will find at Remembrance Day ceremonies are people who are either employed by state institutions or dependent on them financially," he said. "We reject the symbols of the state because they are void of Jewish content."