Today we remember Israel’s brave men and women in uniform who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Today we will remember our fallen and victimes of terror. Today, we will salute our defenders and say ‘Am Yisrael Chai’!

Yom Hazicharon, a memorial day for all of the terror victims and soldiers that lost their lives in defense of Israel, began last night with a siren. As I mentioned with Yom Ha’Shoah (Holocaust rememberance day) we have a siren to mark a moment of silence for these people. To really feel the impact of such a moment, I like to be in crowded places.

Israeli's Pause for Israel's Memorial Day

Israeli’s Pause for Israel’s Memorial Day

The first siren for Yom Hazicharon was last night at 8:00. I was making my way to Rabin Square for the city memorial ceremony, and was nearly there when the siren went off. The square was already half full and as the siren sounded, everyone stopped moving and stood with bowed heads and arms behind their back. Hundreds of people stop in their tracks for this siren. I spent the time thinking just why the country stops for this moment and I’m sure I was not the only one. When the sirens wail, the whole country comes to a standstill. It is an emotional moment as Israelis unite in their sorrow over the loss of those who have given their lives for the State. Given the small size of the country (5 million) and the number of fallen (over 200,000), it is hard to find someone was not the relative or friend of a fallen soldier or terror victim.

The Memorial service is called “Shirim B’Kikar” (Songs in the Square) and all of Israel’s biggest artists come to perform. Some of the artists included Ninet, Moshe Ben Ari, Eyal Golan, Miri Mesika and many more that I had not heard of. In between the musical performances are videos and stories of people that lost their loved ones in the many wars that this country has experienced. One story was of a woman who was a teenager when she lost her older brother and father in the war of independence, 1948. Another story is of an Ethiopian woman who lost her estranged brother in the 1982 war with Lebanon. Another story is of a woman who was informed that her son, Yuval Cohen, was killed in action in the most recent Lebanon war. 15 minutes later, the army calls and apologizes, it was another Yuval Cohen that was killed. 45 minutes later she gets a call and this time it was her Yuval that has been killed in action. The two soldiers are buried next to each other at the Mt. Herzl cometary. There were stories from the Gulf War (1991), the 6 Day war (1967), the Yom Kippur War (1973), the war of Independence(1948), the intifada (1996, 2001), The first and second Lebanon wars(1982, 2006). During all this, the square is packed with thousands of people in attendance most wearing white. Some lean on each other to cry, others stand in silence and everyone is there for the same reason.

Yom Hazicharon will continue until tonight when the mood will be broken by Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence day and 64th birthday). Stories of these celebrations will come later but for now we remember.

There will be another memorial siren at 11AM. This is what will happen:

About 5 minutes before, people will begin to stop on the bridge between Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv, overlooking the Ayalon freeway. They will watch the cars as the siren goes off. At around one minute to 11, cars will pull to the side of the road and drivers emerge. As the siren goes off, everyone either pulls to the side or just stops in the middle with their emergency lights blinking. They stand next to their car doors, heads bowed in silent contemplation.
Tonight there will be fireworks, celebrations and parties all over the country. Tomorrow, it will be impossible to walk in the park because of all of the people Barbecuing but for now, we observe in a strange and solemn atmosphere. Rest assured that my next post will be more upbeat.

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