Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzma’ut – Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Victims of Terrorism, and Independence Day – have been inextricably linked since 1950, when the IDF General Staff issued an order declaring the fourth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar – one day before the day on which the State of Israel was established – a day of remembrance for fallen soldiers.
The linkage between the two days was enshrined by the Knesset in legislation in 1963: “The fourth of Iyar is a day of remembrance for the valor of the warriors of the Israel Defense Forces who gave their lives to ensure the existence of the State of Israel, and of the warriors who fought in the wars of Israel and fell to bring about Israel’s restoration, to commune with their memories and recall their acts of valor.”
In 1998, the first government led by Benjamin Netanyahu determined that Remembrance Day would also commemorate victims of terrorism.
Over the years, some have suggested separating the two days, citing the emotional difficulty in transitioning from personal and collective mourning to national celebration.
But while we cannot dismiss and must never diminish the tremendous challenge many encounter in moving so swiftly from a day of profound grief to one of tremendous jubilation, we find a certain bittersweet beauty in the connection between the two.
As millions of Israelis flock to cemeteries and memorial ceremonies today, and as they stand in silence in memory of the fallen, they will do so in a sovereign Jewish state that is protected by one of the most powerful and sophisticated militaries in the world.
Israel: Powerful military, vibrant democracy
Israel is a major military power, an economic marvel and a technological hub for the entire world. It wins Eurovision Song Contests and Nobel Prizes, develops cutting-edge innovations and agricultural wonders, and has produced a Wonder Woman.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 9.7 million Israelis inhabit this tiny land – 12 times the country’s population at the time of its founding – of whom 7.1 million are Jewish, two million are Arab, and a little more than half a million are of other backgrounds. Some 79% of the country’s Jewish population are tzabarim – Israeli-born – and 46% of the world’s Jews live in Israel.
Israel’s society is vibrant and its democracy is robust. The hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have poured into city streets every Saturday night for four months now, protesting for and against the government’s proposed judicial overhaul, may have different visions of Israel’s future, but they are fighting to ensure that the country their children inhabit is better than the Israel of today.
There are few songs that capture the complexities of life in Israel as simply but poignantly as Naomi Shemer’s ballad “Al Kol Eleh” (“For All of These”): “For the honey and for the sting, for the bitter and the sweet, for our baby girl, please preserve, my good Lord.”
“For the honey and for the sting, for the bitter and the sweet, for our baby girl, please preserve, my good Lord.”Naomi Shemer
The honey and the sting, the bitter and the sweet have always been a part of the Israeli experience, and they remain so today. As yesterday’s terrible terrorist attack – which took place just a few blocks from The Jerusalem Post’s downtown Jerusalem offices – illustrated so painfully, the fight to be a free people in our land continues.
Today we will shed tears of grief for the young men and women who have fallen in battle, and for the civilians of all ages – men, women, teens and children – who have been killed in acts of terrorism since before Israel’s birth.
Then, in an act as incomprehensible as it is natural to us, we will wipe away our tears and come together to rejoice in what we have built in this special corner of the world.
As the sun sets this evening, let us give thanks for all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we might celebrate 75 years of one of the greatest miracles of the modern era.
Chag Atzma’ut Same’ach – Happy Independence Day, Israel.